|In the throes
of a ‘silent crisis’
weather and floods foretell an impending food
Unprecedented soar in food prices in the last few
months and the government’s failure to take control
of the situation is likely to provoke riots in the
Serious questions are raised as to whether the UPFA
government is fully geared to face the present
situation with the crisis further deepening.
Persistent cold weather and flooding, all attributed
to the global climate change, are apparently
threatening Sri Lanka with a possible food crisis in
the near future and again the question is whether
the government is taking necessary steps to ensure
The first comprehensive report by the Global
Humanitarian Forum (GHF) into the human cost of
climate change has warned that the world is in the
throes of a ‘silent crisis’ that kills an estimated
300,000 people each year.
According to the GHF more than 300 million people
are already seriously affected by the gradual
warming of the Earth and that the number is set to
double by 2030.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has further
predicted climate induced migration of people in
Asia due to disasters in the coming years.
The ADB suggests that people in Asia will have to
move to other continents to escape such calamities.
Sri Lanka that was never struck by natural disasters
in the past is facing the brunt of it now, beginning
with the 2004 Tsunami and culminating with the worst
floods that still continue to wreak havoc in most of
the paddy producing districts.
The floods, while rendering more than a million
people homeless has destroyed nearly 200,000
lands and other vegetable cultivations in these
Besides, the sudden cold climate that has pervaded
almost the entire island, has also seriously
affected the vegetable cultivation in the hill
country, resulting in the prices of vegetables
Be that as it may, the businessmen, the brokers and
the so-called middlemen are taking advantage of this
situation to create an artificial price hike,
thereby even shattering the little hope the
government has to resuscitate the situation with
whatever resources available.
The government has gone on record stating the recent
floods have not led to a paddy shortage in the
country, while traders and millers have conveniently
On Friday President Mahinda Rajapaksa met with top
level officials of the Ministry of Co-operatives and
Internal Trade including Ministry Secretary Sunil S
Sirisena and Minister Johnston Fernando to discuss
the present crisis.
The President had expressed concern about the price
hike of rice, albeit claims by the Sri Lanka Paddy
Marketing Board that buffer stocks are available for
the next five to six months in the government
The President was made to understand the price hikes
were artificially created by the businessmen and
that the government should counter this.
Co-operatives and Internal Trade Secretary Sunil S.
Sirisena told The Nation after the meeting with the
President it is the traders who were merely trying
to create a shortage when there is none.
“I don’t see any reason for anyone to panic. I also
don’t see any reasons for the price to go up. We
have at lest 200,000 metric tonnes of rice in our
buffer stock. And we can simply manage with this
quantity till at least August,” he said.
When asked about the claim by traders of an
impending scarcity, he cited that many were merely
trying to create a mirage of a shortage in order to
make money out of the situation.
“The government is not going to permit anyone to
import rice at any time, it is clear that we have
enough and more and there shouldn’t be a need to
increase prices. If millers do continue to increase
prices, the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) has
sternly warned it would conduct raids and take legal
While Sirisena was sincere in his statement, he did
not realise that on the ground a different game was
being played with rice prices exceeding the control
price and the traders continuing to attribute it to
the weather conditions.
One also wondered whether the CAA had the teeth to
conduct raids on traders’ stores.
Director, Rice Research and Development Institute of
Department of Agriculture, based in Kurunegala Dr
Nimal Dissanayake also allayed fears that there is a
shortage of rice due to the floods.
According to his calculations, of an estimated
720,000 hectares of paddy produced in the country,
if 200,000 hectares of paddy lands were destroyed by
the floods, the country still had a balance of
500,000 hectares to benefit from. “Why are we
panicking?” he asked.
According to him there was a 15 percent excess of
rice production last year and though the country
expected the highest ever record of paddy production
this year, it could not be materialised due to the
floods. But, still he said there was sufficient in
the country to cushion the shocks.
However, Mathuguma Senawiruwan, engaged in carbonic
organic farming said though he too was convinced
there is no real shortage of rice as claimed by the
traders particularly due to floods, he was sceptical
about the government’s sincerity in identifying the
He said the government has still not done a proper
survey of the destroyed paddy lands and the quantity
of paddy that is needed for consumption and so on.
His contention was that though the country could
still survive with whatever that was left behind,
the corrupt bureaucrats will not allow this to
happen. “This is the worry of the people,” he said.
Perhaps, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change (UNIPCC) Vice President Prof Mohan
Munasinghe may have been the first to warn there
would be a severe climate change in Sri Lanka, about
three years ago.
Prof Munasinghe in an exclusive interview to The
Nation did mention there would be fluctuation in
temperatures and that while Colombo temperature
would be dropped, Nuwara Eliya temperature would be
increased due to La Nina condition (which is the
opposite of El Nino).
Prof Munasinghe further warned that due to the
global warming, the coastal belt of Sri Lanka would
go under water in a decade or so.
One wonders whether the government has taken stock
of warnings and predictions of local scientists and
taken precautionary measures.
Prof Munasinghe, who has been working on disaster
management for nearly 30 years says, the La Nina is
expected to continue till April or May and there was
bound to be unseasonable weather patterns during
“We will have in Sri Lanka dry and hotter conditions
in the wet zone but paradoxically wet weather in the
The wet zone will have higher temperature but more
rain. The dry parts will become wetter and the wet
part will become dry,” he said.
He said, with such a climatic condition prevailing,
the effect on paddy production, small farmers, food
security, poverty issues and potential migration of
people from one area to another will have to be
seriously looked into by the government.
He said the climate change is going to affect the
poor people more than the rich.
According to Prof Munasinghe though the situation is
serious, there is a remedy.
On food security, he said restoration of tanks and
rehabilitation of people and placing more focus on
irrigation should be given priority.
“We must get the farmers back on their feet. In the
long-term, the productivity of agriculture must be
increased. It has to be very systematically done
with modern methods. The Maha and Yala patterns and
the weather cycles are changing. Some of the
traditional methods are not effective. The crops
must be drought resistant and temperature
resistant,” he said.
Prof Munasinghe, in his proposal to the UN on
sustainable consumption and production has said, as
the rich count for 80 percent of consumption in the
world, they should make a sacrifice by reducing
their consumption rate thereby enabling the poor to
According to him this is the only way in which the
current problems faced by various governments as a
result of climate changes could be solved.
In his proposal has said that climate change is now
considered the ultimate threat multiplier which will
exacerbate the formidable problems of development
already faced like poverty, hunger, illness, water
and energy scarcities and conflict.
As another remedy Prof Munasinghe has said that as
the global situation is unpredictable, countries
like Sri Lanka don’t have to depend on the
traditional donors, but look at the emerging
countries like China and so on and not to be
dependent on anyone in particular.
(AFP) – Asia must
prepare for millions of people to flee their homes
to safer havens within countries and across borders
as weather patterns become more extreme, the Asian
Development Bank warns.
A draft of an ADB report obtained by AFP over the
weekend and confirmed by bank officials cautioned
that failure to make preparations now for vast
movements of people could lead to “humanitarian
crises” in the coming decades.
Governments are currently focused on mitigating
climate change blamed for the weather changes, but
the report said they should start laying down
policies and mechanisms to deal with the projected
“What is clear is that Asia and the Pacific will be
amongst the global regions most affected by the
impacts of climate change,” said the report entitled
“Climate Change and Migration in Asia and the
“Such impacts include significant temperature
increases, changing rainfall patterns, greater
monsoon variability, sea-level rise, floods and more
intense tropical cyclones,” it said.
The report, expected to be released in the next few
weeks, comes as flooding overwhelms parts of
Asia-Pacific, most recently in Australia, where a
powerful cyclone worsened the impact of weeks of
“Asia and the Pacific are particularly vulnerable
because of its high degree of exposure to
environmental risks and high population density. As
a result, it could experience population
displacements of unprecedented scale in the next
decades,” said the report, primarily targeted at
Research carried out for the United Nations showed
that 2010 was one of the worst years on record
worldwide for natural disasters.
Asians accounted for 89 per cent of the 207 million
people affected by disasters globally last year,
according to the Belgium-based Centre for Research
on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED).
Summer floods and landslides in China caused an
estimated US$18 billion (S$22.91 billion) in damage,
while floods in Pakistan cost US$9.5 billion, CRED’s
annual study showed. Not to mention the catastrophic
“Governments are not prepared and that is why ADB is
conducting this project,” said Bart Edes, director
of the Manila-based lending institution’s poverty
reduction, gender and social development division.
“There is no international cooperation mechanism
established to manage climate-induced migration.”
“Protection and assistance schemes to help manage
that flow is opaque, poorly coordinated and
scattered,” he told AFP.
“Policymakers need to take action now,” he stressed,
noting that negotiating treaties and efforts to
raise funds takes time.
Last year’s natural disasters in the Asia-Pacific,
including millions of people displaced in Sri Lanka
and the Philippines, “give us a flavour of what to
expect in the future,” said Edes. “Migration in
general is not being properly addressed and the
situation is going be made worse,” added Edes,
referring to the additional impact of climate change
on migration patterns, fuelled by economic needs and
armed conflicts. “Now we have another driver of
The draft ADB report said the people forced to leave
due to the extreme weather changes “have come to
incarnate the human face of climate change” and
while many of them will return home, many will be
Those expected to suffer the most will be the poor
as they lack the means to easily pack up and leave
for safer havens, the report said.
“The issue of climate-induced migration will grow in
magnitude and will take different forms,” the report
added, urging national governments and the global
community to “urgently address this issue in a
“Failure to do so could result in humanitarian
crises with great social and economic costs,” it