Article on heat advisory issued by the Department of Meteorology for 14 districts in Sri Lanka in March

People told to brace themselves during warm weather


By Sheain Fernandopulle

Sri Lanka’s weather is tropical and climatically the island is divided into two monsoonal seasons which bring rain to the west and south-west coasts from May to September; and the east coast and northern region between October and February. The rest of the year is sunny and dry. Temperatures are fairly constant year round, with coastal regions enjoying average temperatures of 25-30°C and the highlands 15-18°C on average.

However, the general public has been inconvenienced owing to the hot weather being experienced in some parts of the country to a considerable degree for the past one and half weeks.

The Department of Meteorology has issued several heat weather advisories warning the people in 14 districts to be extremely cautious of the hot weather.

Vulnerable areas 

According to the heat advisory issued by the Med Department, the 14 districts that are likely to be affected are Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mannar, Mullaitivu, Vavuniya, Trincomalee, Anuradhapura, Puttalam, Polonnaruwa, Kurunegala, Monaragala, Batticaloa, Ampara and Hambantota.

The department warned that those living in these areas should avoid venturing outside too much during the next few days, particularly in the morning hours as heat strokes, cramps and heat exhaustion were some of the after effects that could occur if precautions were not taken.

Several areas including Matale, Gampaha, Colombo, Kalutara, Galle and Matara would also experience dry weather and residents were warned to take extra precautions when being out in the open in these areas as well.

The maximum temperature so far has been 35.4°C and was reported from the Puttalam district.

The department warned that those living in these areas should avoid venturing outside too much during the next few days

Heat Index Forecast

The Meteorology Department said that the Heat Index Forecast is calculated by using relative humidity and maximum temperature and this is the condition that is felt on the body.

This is not the forecast of maximum temperature. “lt is generated by the Department of Meteorology for the next day and is prepared by using global numerical weather prediction model data,” Met Department said.

The relative humidity of the air is the amount of water that is present in the air compared to the greatest amount it would be possible for the air to hold at that temperature.

The situation would last till May ends. Speaking to the Daily Mirror Deputy Director of the Meteorology Department and Director forecasting Anusha Warnasuriya said that the following four factors mainly caused for the prevalence of the hot weather.

  • Calm of the wind
  • Increase in humidity in low atmosphere that leads to increase sweating
  • Loss of shade with clouds in day time leads to directly fall sunlight onto the ground 
  • The wind blows from the sea.

“This situation would last till the end of May and would fully decay on the verge of South-west Monsoon,” Warnasuriya said.

She added that people living in the Northern Province and coastal areas would feel the hot the most.

Meanwhile, an official of the Meteorology Department said that a temperature exceeding 40°C might also be experienced in the future.

He said that there have been several occasions in the past where a temperature exceeding 40°C had been reported.

The relative humidity of the air is the amount of water that is present in the air compared to the greatest amount it would be possible for the air to hold at that temperature. The situation would last till May ends

Tips to beat heat related illnesses

The Department of Meteorology with the assistance of the Ministry of Health, issued a recent bulletin on precautionary measures to be taken during the warm weather. Instructions were given to increase the intake of liquids while avoiding exposure to hot sun as much as possible

Let’s follow these instructions to avoid excessive heat

  • Wear light colored, loose fitting, light weight clothes. 
  • Wear long sleeved clothes which cover the body adequately to prevent body getting from being exposed to the sun. 
  • Stay under a shade, whenever possible 
  • During outdoor activities in the day time, take following precautions. 

I . Use an umbrella
II. Wear a wide brimmed hat
III.Wear standard sunglasses
IV. Apply sun screen (SPF-Sun Protecting Factor 30 or above) at least 30 minutes before you go outdoors. According to product instructions, you may reapply whenever necessary.

  • If engaged in daily outdoor activities such as agriculture and construction related work, make sure you wear light colored, loose fitting clothing which covers your body adequately. 
  • Have a daily bath. Take a shower couple of times a day. 
  • Try to restrict outdoor activities as much as possible during day time. Try to plan these activities in early morning or during evening hours.
  • When you stay outdoors, remember to stay in the shady areas whenever possible. 
  • Discourage school children from engaging in outdoor activities when the sun is shining brightly. 
  • Don’t leave children or your pets in the parked vehicle, especially in cars even with an opened window, since cars parked outside can easily heat up and may cause heat related illnesses. 
  • Keep a basin of water near the fan indoors which will help to reduce evaporation of water from your body. 
  • Let’s follow these instructions to stay hydrated 
  • Drink plenty of fluids more than your daily usual intake. 
  • Drink fluids frequently. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty. 
  • Each time you urinate, remember to rehydrate yourself by drinking water. 
  • Stay away from very sugary or alcoholic drinks, since these causes you to lose more water from body. 
  • Be alert on the following discomforts you may get due to heat 
  • Small red colored rash look like pimples on the skin (especially around the neck, chest. groin or elbow crease) – (Heat Rash) 
  • Warm, red colored painful skin (Sun Bum) 
  • Excessive sweating 
  • Muscle cramps or muscle pain 
  • Vomiting or nausea 
  • Excessive weakness or tiredness 
  • Headache 
  • Fainting attacks 

The Health Promotion Bureau has requested the general public to seek medical advice immediately if they experience these discomforts mentioned above.

High risk groups requiring special attention

  • Infants and young children 
  • People 65 years of age or older 
  • People who are overweight and obese 
  • People who are exert during work or exercise 
  • People who are physically ill (Especially who are with heart disease or high blood pressure) 

Article on World Environment Day theme for this year “Beat Air Pollution”

Beat Air Pollution


By Sujeewa Fernando

Today is the World Environment Day, which was initiated by the United Nations in 1974, to commemorate the inception of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the decision to initiate UNEP was taken at the conference on Environment in Stockholm, Sweden. in 1972.

World Environment Day encourages action for protection of the environment. This event is widely celebrated all over the world, in more than 100 counties. This is a day to draw attention of the policy makers to conserve the environment and for all others to get involved in activities related to protection of the environment, individually, locally, nationally or globally.

The Theme for this year is “Beat Air Pollution”, where air pollution has become a severe environmental concern all over the world. This year the global host country is China, a country with high air pollution, where it is expected to high light the issues in relation to the theme and support taking action to solve them. Delhi city of our neighbouring country too is a well known city with high air pollution.

It has also been found that nine out of ten people in the world are living under polluted atmospheric conditions, or breathing polluted air, where seven million people worldwide die prematurely each year due to air pollution and four million are from Asia Pacific region.

Air pollution was generally linked with respiratory and heart diseases, but now it has been found that it can cause, diabetes, dementia impaired cognative development and lower intelligence levels.

Sri Lanka emphasize on “Minimization of Air Pollution through Sustainable Forest Management” where trees absorb carbon dioxide, other pollutants and release oxygen, purifying air. Therefore by increasing the forest cover, or growing trees we can minimize air pollution. At present Sri Lanka has a forest cover of 29.7% and it is expected to increase it up to 32% by 2030. Phytoplanktons (small micro plants) in the sea too absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen.

The main event in Sri Lanka will be held at the BMICH, on June 6, under the patronage of the President and the Minister of Environment Maithripala Sirisena. An “Environment Week’ was declared from May 30 to June 5.

May 30 Day of Cleaning Environment and raising Awareness on Environment.

May 31 Day of minimizing Air Pollution and its Harmful effects

June 01 Tree Planting Day

June 02 Water and Water Sources Conservation Day

June 03 Biodiversity Conservation Day

June 04 Sustainable Land Management Day

June 05 World Environment Day

All the agencies under the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Enviornment has implemented many programmes thoughout the country through their central and regional offices to commemorate this event during the “ Enviornment Week”.

The agencies are Central Enviornmental Authority, Mahaweli Authority, Forest Department, Geological and Mines Bureau, Gem & Jewellery Authority, Gem and Jewellery Research and Training Institute, State Timber Corporation, Coast Conservation Department, Marine Enviornment Protection Agency, Central Engineering Consultancy Bureau. In addition the general public, private sector, Non Governmental Agencies, Community Based Organizations too has joined hands in implementing programmes.

Air pollution occurs when the air gets contaminated with physical, chemical or biological agents and becomes harmful to animals, plants and human beings. Some of the main pollutants are Particulate Matter (PM) or generally known as very small dust or other particles, Carbon Dioxide, Carbon Monoxide, Ozone gas, Nitrogen Dioxide and Sulphur Dioxide. Methane gas is emitted from waste dumps due to fermentation of bio degradable waste.

Air pollutants like carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone are major green house gases, which causes global warming and climate change.

Biological agents like bacteria, fungi too can contaminate the air causing many diseases.

The main cause of air pollution in the country is vehicular emissions. Industrial emissions, burning of waste, accumulation of waste, (waste dumps), construction activities, spraying of chemicals, forest fires are some of the other causes of air pollution.

Indoor air pollution is somewhat a neglected area, which needs attention. The pollutants are two to five times more concentrated in indoors and as many people are living indoors for longer periods during the day, it is important that we pay our attention to improve the air quality indoors.

Cooking with firewood without proper ventilation, fumigating indoor unnecessarily, spraying low quality chemical fragrances, paints, chemicals, inadequate cleaning of dust can cause indoor air pollution. Unhealthy indoors can cause sick building syndrome, with symptoms like headaches and vomiting fatigue.

Air quality is degraded in the Colombo city due to vehicular emissions, industries and dust due to constructions. Kandy and Kurunegala are two cities surrounded by mountains and rocks respectively causing accumulation of air pollutants. Most of the major cities face air pollution issues due to traffic congestions.

Air pollution can mainly be minimized by proper maintenance of vehicles, to minimize emissions, by controlling and purifying industrial emissions, minimizing burning of waste specially plastics and polythene, which emits carcinogenic gasses, namely dioxin and furan.

Indoor air pollution can be minimized by improving ventilation in kitchens and using improved cooking stoves. Minimizing unnecessary fumigations and spraying of chemicals.

Vertical Forest gardens are introduced to improve air quality in cities, where plants/trees are grown on high rising buildings.


Sri Lankan experience of greening the buildings with growing plants.

NASA has recommended ten indoor plants which are capable of absorbing not only Carbon Dioxide but also carcinogens like, benzene, xylene and formaldehyde. Let us take action to minimize air pollution to protect the environment and human health.

The writer is an Assistant Director, Environment Pollution Control and Chemical Management Division, Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment.







Current drought prevailing in Sri Lanka: Water reservoirs have dried causing a stall in hydro power generation

Down, down … water reserves hit dangerous low


By Shaadya Ismail

Reservoirs are only 20 per cent full and generation of hydro-electricity has stopped even though monsoon rains are falling heavily in parts of the country.

“In 29 years, this is the worst drought-affected result,” the Power and Renewable Energy Ministry said.

Energy costs are rising sharply because the reduction in water inflow to the reservoirs means the ministry cannot use water to generate electricity and is reliant on thermal and coal power.

“We have applied for a loan of Rs. 15 billion from a state-owned bank in order to keep up with the expenditure,” the ministry’s Director of Development, Sulakshana Jayawardena, said,

He said the current water level at the Castlereagh reservoir is 33 per cent; at Maussakelle, 36 per cent; Kotmale, 45 per cent; Victoria, just 15.2 per cent; Randenigala, 26.7 per cent; Samanalawewa, 19.9 per cent.

Water stocks in the reservoirs are expected to decrease further, and Irrigation Department Director-General S. Mohanaraja urged farmers to adopt water-saving methods of agriculture.

The Ministry of Agriculture said this was the worst Yala season Sri Lanka has experienced.

The ministry’s Director of Socio-Economics and Planning, Dr. R.M. Herath, said more crops would be affected if good rains do not come soon.

Farmers in irrigated areas such as Polonnaruwa, Ampara and Batticaloa have been asked to use water cautiously. As an initiative to encourage cultivation during drought periods the ministry cultivated paddy on 330,000 ha – this was mostly a success although 20,000 ha was spoiled by drought.

The Disaster Management Centre (DMC) said almost 162,000 families are in hardship because of the drought, mainly in the North-Western, North-Central, Eastern and Northern provinces where only low rainfall is expected in the next two weeks.

The department has so far spent more than Rs. 60 million on drought responses including transporting drinking water to families by a network of 600 water bowsers and supplying 20,000 water tanks.

In the rest of the country the south-west monsoon is bringing landslides, floods and heavy winds that have killed seven people so far and left more than a thousand families in hardship.

While the prevailing heavy winds will not result in cyclonic conditions, wind speeds could increase to 70-80kmph in the Western, Southern, Central, Sabaragamuwa, North-Western and North-Central provinces and in the Trincomalee district, the Meteeorological Department said.
Thunderstorms are expected in the Sabaragamuwa, Central, Western, Southern and North-Western provinces and the public has been warned to avoid injury from lightning strikes.

Heavy falls of about 100mm are likely in parts of the Central and Sabaragamuwa provinces. The National Building Research Organisation (NBRO) issued warnings about the risk of landslides, slope failures, rock falls and cutting failures in districts such as Ratnapura, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Kegalle, Kalutara, Matara and Galle. Evacuation warnings have been issued to residents in parts of the Ratnapura, Imbulpe, Ambalangoda, Ambagamuwa, Nuwara Eliya, Kotmale and Udapalatha divisional secretariats.
Compensation up to Rs. 2.5 million can be claimed for property damage while Rs. 250,000 can be claimed for loss of life, the DMC advised.

Flood waters in Nuwara Eliya. Pic by Shelton Hettia-rachchi



Karuwalagaswewa: Collecting potable water


Dikovita harbour : Authoritties banned fishermen from going out to sea due to inclement weather. Pic by Amila Gamage

Aruwakkalu Landfill to accept garbage from Puttalam district

Aruwakkalu Landfill to accept garbage from Puttalam

Source – Link

By Disna Mudalige

The Aruwakkalu Sanitary Landfill site will accept garbage collected from all local authorities in the Puttalam district from March 15, Megapolis and Western Development Ministry Secretary Nihal Rupasinghe said.
In the wake of growing ‘hartal’ and other protest campaigns by the area residents with only a month remaining to the commissioning of the landfill, the Ministry Secretary took pains to dispel the doubts and fears harboured against the project.
Speaking to the media along with the project consultants, Rupasinghe firmly defended the project detailing on its scientific and technical aspects and the special precautions taken to avoid environmental and health hazards.
The Metro Colombo Solid Waste Management Project was commenced as a durable solution to the garbage problem in Colombo following the Meethotamulla tragedy in 2017.
Rupasinghe said Phase I of the much-needed project has now been completed and the Ministry has decided to initially accept garbage in the Puttalam district to the landfill.
“About 160 tonnes of garbage is collected daily in the Puttalam district and the current system of waste disposal in the area is open dumping and burning. This leads to many environmental and health hazards and we could observe that the leachate was leaking to the streets. People in Puttalam have got nothing to object to the landfill site as it also provides a scientific solution to their own garbage problem,” Rupasinghe said.
“People panic because they are not familiar with the technological aspects of it and are misled by wrong information. I ask those protesting against the landfill to come up with one justifiable reason for their objections,” Rupasinghe said.
“The Aruwakkalu Landfill will be fully completed by the end of this year and it can accommodate 1,200 tonnes of garbage per day. Once the Kelaniya Transmission Station is built, garbage collected in the Colombo, Dehiwala and Kolonnawa Municipal Councils will be transported from Kelaniya to Aruwakkalu in sealed containers via train. Four new train engines for the purpose have already been ordered from China,” he explained.
He pointed out that the Kelawarapitiya site where garbage is now being disposed would reach its full capacity in a few months’ time and an alternative durable solution is needed urgently. He said waste to energy projects in Karadiyana and Kelawarapitiya, each with a capacity to generate 10 MW, would be completed by another two years.
“However, the landfills are cost effective than waste to energy projects. As estimated waste to energy projects cost about Rs.7,000 per a tonne of garbage, while the landfill only costs Rs 3,000 per a tonne of garbage,” he explained.

Dealing with disasters

Dealing with disasters

Sri Lanka braces itself for yet another round of floods; the third in as many years. As floods and droughts become regular occurrences, how should the nation respond?
The impact of this year’s floods is not yet known but likely to be heavy. In May 2017 floods and landslides affected 15 of the 25 districts of Sri Lanka. The drought in 2016 and 2017 affected 1,927,069 people across 17 districts, many of them poor.
“Approximately 12 per cent of those affected were poor, nearly twice the national average of 6.7 per cent. In the case of the landslides, this is because the 11 affected Divisional Secretary (DS) Divisions tend to be poorer than the national average. Those affected by the floods overall were also disproportionately poor, with an estimated poverty rate of 8.7 per cent.” (World Bank)
If the poor are disproportionately affected by natural disasters it has a negative impact on poverty and therefore has the highest level of priority for policymakers.
Little can be done about the weather but proper risk management can minimize its impact. The Government needs to move from the unplanned and ad-hoc reaction when disaster strikes to a proactive, systematic management of risk, something that may be illustrated by the example of Chile.
The earthquake that rocked Chile in 2010, one of the largest in history that wiped out roughly 18% of the country’s GDP – a massive impact. (The impact Sri Lanka’s 2017 floods was only 0.4% of GDP.) Yet Chile demonstrated a miraculous recovery. Most countries that suffer catastrophes of that magnitude take years or even decades to recover. Chile did it quickly, how did it do so?
Several factors contributed overall to the low casualty rate and rapid recovery.
The Government had decided to priorities the role it played in managing disasters. First, in minimizing damage, because of its history with natural disasters, Chile’s Government had developed a strong building code and ensured it was properly enforced. In particular, Chile had a law that held building owners accountable for losses in a building they built for 10 years. Furthermore, while not legally required, almost all homeowners in Chile had earthquake insurance because banks required it in order to get a loan to buy a house.
Second, the disaster response had been well-planned- the number of fires after the earthquake was limited due to the immediate shut down the electricity grid and the local emergency response was very effective. The third factor was education: the overall high level of knowledge about earthquakes and tsunamis by much of the population that helped them respond more appropriately after the event.
After the disaster, any government faces the question of how reconstruction will be paid for. Did Chile wait for aid to arrive? No.
Following the quake, because of the sheer size of the disaster, Chile was compelled to increase taxes temporarily. But the policies that ensured that a large part of the homeowner market was insured paid off – it minimized the amount the Government needed to finance. Together these contained the financial ramifications from the earthquake and put Chile quickly on the road to recovery.
Although Sri Lanka never experienced anything like the devastation in Chile, natural disasters in Sri Lanka take a heavy toll on resources and people. Apart from the human cost they disrupt agricultural output (which may affect exports) and increase food inflation. The contraction of economic activity negatively impacts government revenue while simultaneously creating new budget pressures in the form of disaster relief. In the four months of 2017, the government reportedly incurred LKR 1,397 million for the provision of disaster relief (World Bank).
How can risk be managed?
Small risks may be managed by households and slightly larger ones at the level of the community but for largest risks governments have a critical role, providing an enabling environment for shared action and responsibility and channeling direct support to vulnerable people.
The problem needs to be tackled across three fronts:
1. Preventive measures that minimize the impact of disasters.
2. Early warning systems and evacuation plans that allow people to leave disaster zones to safer areas.
3. Managing the financial risks from natural disasters.

Preventive measures

1. Floodplain zoning

A flood zoning authority must be created and floodplains (the water channel, flood channel and low land susceptible to floods) must be surveyed. The survey forms the basis of establishing floodplain zones, including delineation of the areas subject to flooding and classification of land with reference to the relative risk of flood.
Specific activities and uses (settlement and economic) in designated areas should be subject to administrative permits and building/land use codes. Eg. Building and design standards must protect against inundation. Restrictions and prohibitions should be based on risk assessments.
The public should be made aware of the dangers of floods and the need to restrict use.
Information about restrictions on construction in flood areas should be easily accessible and information about risk assessments should be easily understood, for example, clear flood maps and, where appropriate, information based on geographic information systems (GIS) should be distributed. Mandatory disclosures of risk could be included for property transfer or rental in areas of risk.

2. Conservation of wetlands

Wetlands are natural sponges that trap and slowly release surface water, rain, groundwater and flood waters. They are important in both flood and drought management so as far as possible natural wetlands and retention areas in the river basin should be conserved, and where possible restored or expanded.

3. Modifying the flood flow: Engineering measures

Diversions, reservoirs, channelization (increasing the capacity of the channel), bank protection (to prevent bank erosion), dams and floodplain restoration (creating wash lands that can safely take overflows) will play a role in minimizing impact. Engineering measures must be in harmony with the landscape and nature conservation. A holistic approach covering the whole river basin is needed as localized flood protection measures can have negative effects both downstream and upstream.

Early warning systems and education

Forecasting and early warning systems should be established and guidelines issued on how populations are to act during floods.
Education on measures that can be taken at the level of individual households to either limit the damage when flooding occurs or prevent inundation is needed, eg. elevation of structures, elevated curb stones to prevent water entry from smaller events, reinforcement of foundations to avoid structural damage, moving building contents (and particularly electrical installations) above flood water levels (either temporarily or permanently), dry flood proofing to make areas below flood water levels watertight and temporary or permanent flood walls (ranging from sandbags to free-standing concrete barriers).
Forecasts and related information must be easily accessible and real-time media coverage ensured.

Managing financial risks of natural disasters

The GoSL exposure to disaster risk is through the costs of relief/recovery, reconstruction of public assets, compensation and (re)insurance schemes that provide coverage for disasters.
Several tools are available:
i. Insurance, GoSL already has some cover with the National Insurance Trust Fund but premia can be reduced through risk reduction – eg. land-use planning, flood defenses etc. which will also support private insurance, which can top-up overall compensation.
ii. Risk pooling – insurance coverage for a pool (or its full portfolio) of Government assets. Insurance arrangements that cover a broader pool of assets facing more diversified risks can have cost advantages over insuring the assets in a flood zone.
iii. Multi-country pooling (done by several Pacific, Caribbean, African nations) provide small countries with improved access to international insurance markets based on their ability to merge a set of (less) correlated risks.
iv. Catastrophe bonds: bonds where the principal or interest payments are delayed or lost to investors in the event of a disaster.
v. Contingent credit lines with multilateral development agencies can bridge short-term shortfalls.
These are some possible options, careful assessment of the relative costs and benefits of different approaches is necessary. Once zoning is complete, the Government could lead the way in the relocation of some public assets away from areas of risk.

Rethinking agricultural policy

Agriculture is being affected by social, economic and environmental pressures. Current policies which encourage domestic agriculture need to be reviewed in the light of changing the climate, society- fewer people wish to take up agriculture, labor shortages and pressures on land use.
Policies that encourage risky production choices in flood zones or increase vulnerability to droughts and floods should be avoided. Allocation of water rights should reflect sustainable use and will help mitigate the impact of droughts. The Government must understand the impact that disasters have on poverty and recognize the proper role it must play in managing these risks. Ad-hoc responses grab headlines but working strategically to minimize long-term risks-a harder and thankless task, is the way to go.
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