‘No water, so plant trees’

Published in the Nation on October 16, 2016

Minister Fernandopulle contends country is paying the price for wasting resources

he drought situation in several parts of the country has compelled the government to restrict water supply.

State Minister of City Planning and Water Supply, Sudarshini Fernandopulle in an interview to Weekend Nation said the scarcity of drinking water was severe while adding that the country needed a long-term strategy to manage such situations in future.

She also said that the Ministry hoped to commence a massive campaign to promote tree planting island-wide as part of the long-term strategy.

Following are excerpts:
Q:There are restrictions on water supply to several parts of the country. How serious is this situation?
To be frank, it is quite a serious situation as far as I am concerned. We have witnessed extreme weather conditions in several parts of the country quite a few times during this year alone. The changes in climate had a huge impact on drinking water.  We had a drought in the beginning of this year. That was followed by incessant rains, floods and landslides which resulted in thousands affected and displaced. Now once again we are facing a drought situation.

On all three occasions, we had to supply water. We supplied water in bowsers during the drought. Then during floods too we had to ensure people had access to safe drinking water.

Now, we have reached a critical situation where there is an acute shortage of drinking water. The water in our reservoirs is drying up rapidly. At the same time, the demand for water is increasing by the day. We have decided to restrict water supply in order to ensure that the situation does not worsen.

We are working with the Disaster Management Centre (DMC) and the local government bodies.

Q:What are the challenges in tackling this situation?
As I said before, I personally have not come across situations like this. Proper long-term planning is the challenge. In addition to the reservoirs drying up, we are also faced with a situation where sea water has seeped into several rivers island-wide, making the water salty. We have to supply water to them as well.

Q:What should the public do to face this situation?
The public needs to be responsible in the manner in which they use the water. This is a crisis situation and the people need to be mindful of how they use water.

You cannot blame the government or the authorities for this situation. We are here due to our own actions. Each citizen has the responsibility to protect the environment and make sure the earth is protected.

Q:From the government’s point of view, what do you think needs to be done to address the current situation and ensure that we could face similar situations in the future?
Our problem is that we do not have a long-term solution for this issue. We need to look at long term. We only talk of the issues as and when there is a drought or floods and then we don’t think about it once the damages are rectified. That should not be the case.
We are actually thinking of starting a massive promotional campaign to plant trees. That is the long term solution for this problem. Every citizen should think of preserving the greenery and planting more trees if we are to face similar weather conditions in future.
In addition, we also have to look at mechanisms where we could reuse water. For that, we need to have a proper waste- water management system in place. We need to look at alternate options to see how we could use water for other purposes such as gardening and even to wash our vehicles. We have to keep in mind that we use the same water boil and drink and to wash vehicles. So we need to have a system in place to ensure that we do not waste our water.

Q:Is the government looking at desalination as an option to address this situation?
We have not ruled out desalination. But the issue there is that it is very costly. The unit cost is very high. It needs a lot of work in order to implement it in Sri Lanka. Even in the past, the authorities have tried to do it in order to address the water issue, but had given up due to the huge cost involved. We are, however, looking into that option as well.


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