Air Quality TechCamp in Kathmandu


Clean Air for South Asia Techcamp in Kathmandu

The U.S. Embassy in Nepal, in partnership with Kathmandu Living Labs, organized a two-day South Asia Air Quality Tech Camp on July 30-31st.

U.S. Embassy in Nepal, in partnership with Kathmandu Living Labs, organized a two-day South Asia Air Quality TechCamp on July 30-31st, accompanied with world-class trainers and 60 participants from seven South Asian countries: Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives and Pakistan.

Sri Lankan Participants in TechCamp, Kathmandu
Photo: US Embassy Kathmandu/Flickr

The aim of the camp was to address political, social, and scientific facts of the problem and improve the ability of civil society, media, and other influencers to engage governments, empower the public and take action to improve air quality in South Asia.

“Air pollution does not respect national boundaries,” US Ambassador to Nepal, H.E. Randy W. Berry pointed out the regional cooperation required to solve the issue of air pollution.

Photo: US Embassy Kathmandu/Flickr

Participants and trainers from 10+ countries selected topics under, What’s the biggest challenge you face in your work on air quality?

  • Reliable Data/Access to Data
  • Regulations/Enforcement of Existing Regulations
  • Proper Monitoring Systems or Collection of Data
  • Awareness/Targeting the Right Audience
  • Coordination: Among Stakeholders or Across Borders
Proper Monitoring Systems/Collection of Data – Group Discussion Facilitators: Neelam Azmat, Santosh Gartaula Photo: Kathmandu Living Labs

We selected one topic with a challenge we identified in our work and dived into the first round of discussions. In Sri Lanka, we have monitoring systems based on BAM and Low-Cost Sensors. But we need to have a proper monitoring network combining the region.

Speed Geeking

We spent five minutes with each trainer in 14 small groups. The trainers shared their stories of using a particular technology/strategy to address air pollution.

Photos: Piushani Ellegala

Author: Ms Piushani Ellegala

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

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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