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Can Local Actions Contribute to Climate and Disaster Risk Management?

Darshani De Silva's picture

Climate change is real and likely to drive increasingly dramatic changes in our environment. While ecosystems and disease dispersion may be affected, some of the greatest impacts are anticipated due to increases of extreme climate events such as droughts, floods and storms. We are already seeing these changes but often do not connect them with our lives. The question arises, “should communities wait for our governments to plan, address, and find resources to respond to risks of climate change?" I believe not. Much can be done in small ways through local actions. Keeping this in mind, the Civil Society Fund in Sri Lanka is focusing on “Development and Climate Change – Building Community Resilience in the Dry Zone of Sri Lanka”.

Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) are interested in learning how adaptation initiatives can be promoted among their communities. It is not hard, to give the right messages to people who have worked on the land for their survival, which is the case of many living in the drier parts of Sri Lanka. These people fight regularly in the face of changes in the environment, have observed the changes in their lifetimes, developed various coping mechanisms and have traditional knowledge passed forward from generation to generation on locally suitable technologies and practices. All what is needed is to assist them to put these into perspective, provide them an understanding of consequences of climate change for their lives and livelihoods and reinstate and put into practice the already known knowledge base.

It is heartening to know that many efforts are being recognized. A few examples are given below to guide CSOs wanting to promote local actions to manage climate induced risks in the dry zone of Sri Lanka. Practical Action created a video where a farmer in Ampara District, Mutubanda has been helped to adopt the cultivation of indigenous rice variety that requires only small quantity of water compared to hybrid varieties of rice, which are presently more popular but necessitate submersion in comparatively large amounts of water for extended periods of time. Experience among such farmers have identified that this is one of the solutions to face frequent drought conditions in the dry zone of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka boasts around 2,000 indigenous varieties of rice and many of them are known to be nutritious, diseases and pest resistant and have ability to withstand to extreme dry conditions.

Making small changes in your home garden can reduce green house gas emissions, save money and improve the adaptive capacity to climatic risks. Home gardens in Sri Lanka are highly developed and UNCCD recognizes them as the most outstanding in the Asia-Pacific Region. The rich mix of crops includes vegetables, fruits, timber, spices, and other agricultural plants using organic fertilizers that sometimes can be integrated with livestock and poultry. Such systems provide ecologically sound and economically viable forestry system, based on optimum utilization of land, reducing soil erosion, efficient recycling of wastes and assist in recharging ground water retention. Multiple cropping systems will have resilience to cope with changes such as frequent crop disease and pests, which are envisaged to become climate driven in the near future.

What if one does not have land for setting up a home garden? Planting using discarded bags, containers, etc. and raised garden beds is now commonly practiced in urban Sri Lanka. “Asirimath Gewatta” (wonderful home garden) telecast by a local station, Rupavahini on Sunday at 7.30 a.m. provides innovative tips to get most out of limited space.

Dry zone in Sri Lanka is also facing scarcity of water due to longer dry periods, as well as access to poor quality drinking water often owing to agrochemical contamination of ground water. Bioremediation practices demonstrated by Neosynthesis Research Center, where native trees can be planted in the vicinity of water sources such as drinking water wells helping the land to retain water in adequate quantities and significantly reducing the levels of chemical contaminations. Rainwater harvesting using various methods is widely practiced in Sri Lanka as a solution to water scarcity. It is also very important to create awareness on water management to ensure optimal use of scarce resources. Over 2500 years old practice of cascade irrigation system should guide us in our thinking of the importance of water management for long-term sustenance

According to Moench and Dixie, “Theory and observations are fine; translating them into practice and determining the degree to which they actually enable adaptation to climate variability, however requires action on the ground”.

So, let us guide our local communities to realize their potential because local actions no matter how simple they are can contribute to climate and disaster risk management.

Please apply for the CSF grant if you have a project in mind. Recipients will receive up to $9,000 to implement their projects.


Submitted by peter dias amarasinghe on
Isn't this again a question of inadequate awareness creation/animation? Shouldn't people investigate their own reality? Shouldn't external interventions be designed in such a way that people, especially the poor, initiate process which tends them to make a social inquiry of their own reality and identify that disasters are a part of that reality? Such a process would, in my view, help them to tap their own wisdom as well as the traditional knowledge they possess to initiate a process which would manage disaster risks.

Submitted by Joe Qian on
Hi Peter, I believe that's the purpose of this post, give examples of what can be done and allow people to initiate and share their own processes to mitigate possible effects of climate change. If they do have any ideas, they can be assisted to implement it with the assistance of the World Bank's Civil Society Fund Grant.

Submitted by Dilinika on
Peter/Joe, I agree with both of you. From the phone calls we have been receiving the past few weeks, it is very clear that there is lack of awareness and a need for information to stimulate the thinking of CSOs as they prepare their proposals. I agree with Peter that initiatives should be locally driven. The intention of the blogger was to provide some inputs to stimulate their thinking.

Submitted by Anonymous on
I am Sri Lankan who worked for the United Nations mainly in the Asia Pacific region.My experience in the countries of South, East and South East Asia and the South Pacific is that CSOs are well focussed to address the issues related to climate change and disaster management such as storm surges tsunamis earthquakes land slides etc.These civil society organizations are not politically motivated and act on their own initiatives with advice from senior members of the community.They also do have no aspirations to be law makers or hold Government positions.The self reliance and sacrifice of these CSOs are commendable specially in China Bhutan Cambodia Thailand East Timor Viet Nam and South Pacific Islands mainly Fiji Tonga Vanavatu etc.It was a pleasure to work in these countries as the people at grass root levels were well organized articulated and gave leadership in solving problems related to envirnment and economic development.My special studies related to the environment were on small medium and large scale surface and underground mining integrated management of coastal zones conflict resolution on use of the fragile coastal environments such as promotion of tourism fisheries etc. However in Sri Lanka the greatest drawback for forming effective civil society organizations is that every strata of society from urban to village levels are highly politicized and nothing can be achieved if you do not show allegience to the ruling party politicians.CSOs who have opposing views of how the environment should be protected are threatned and even abducted.A good example is illicit mining operations for gems in Sri Lanka.There are very powerful ministers and other law makers who support these illicit mining activities as they are partners in such crimes against the environment.Another environmental disaster that goes unabated is sand mining.The recent reports of sand mining near the Kelani bridge could not be stopped as it was promoted by a government minister and the police were helpless.Moreover the two state sector organizations legally entrusted with the regularization of such activities were passing the buck(Geological Survey and Mines Bureau -GSMB and the Coast Conservation Department CCD).There is no coordination between these two entities as they fall under two ministries As regards to gem mining the Gem and Jewllery Authority gives permints for gemming instead of the GSMB which should be the sole authority to regularize mining activities in Sri Lanka. Other major examples of environmental degredation that causes disasters and even climate change in Sri Lanka are open pit mining for limestone in Aruwakalu in the Puttalam District and graphite mining in Bogala as well as Kahatagaha.These entities were privatized and the main drawback is that there is no regular and proper supervision of such mining activities by the GSMB.The limestone quarry at Aruvkalu is now strip mined with the overburden pushed into the Dutch Bay thus destroying the most valuable prawn fishing area in Sri Lanka.When the IUCN requested permission to enter this quarry site Holcim refused permission.Accordingly no proper environmental assessment can be made related to this mining operation.The same applies to graphite mining .The GSMB does not periodically inspect this operation and operational licenses are given without insisting on improvements for the safety of the mine and the health of the miners. No medical attention is given to some workers who suffer from graphite pneumoconosis as the Government does not consider this as a health hazard for compensation.GSMB is stinking with bribery and corrupton and it is a well known fact that if you do not bribe the officials over there and earlier ministers you will never be able to get a mining permit. Bribery and corruption are rampant in Sri Lanka from the highest level to the grass root level.I am personally aware that the present Chairman of the GSMB was requested to resign from his post as Director of GSMB when a mineral sands tender was manupulated by him in 2002.However when the present Minister for Environment and Natural Resources was appointed he made this corrupt official as Chairman GSMB just to spite the former Minister and Chairman who was a person from another political party byopenly stating that the Former Minister removed the then Director to bring in a UNP Chairman.The present Minister of Environment and Natural Resources deliberayely misled the masses and did not state the the Director functioned under the UNP Chairman at that time.Further a Working Director who was also removed from the GSMB for fraud for drawing his salary when he was not working for GSMB has been appointed by the present Minister as a Director of the GSMB.It is reliably learnt that a mining engineer was remanded a few years back for issuing frudulent mining permits in the Kandy District.The GSMB is identified as a very corrupt organization where the Chairman was proved corrupt inefficient and so the members of the Board of Management. The present Minister of Environment and Natural Resources has no vision for the GSMB and the Director is incompetent and not a geologist. I have elaborated the above facts to show that in Sri Lanka there is no way CSOs could contribute in any effective or significant manner due to the heavy politicization of the country.Moreover if CSO s coume out with facts they are either intimidated or even abducted.A good example is gem mining and sand mining in most of our major rivers in Sri Lanka.Government lawmakers from the Ministers down to Members of Parliament are so corrupt that they will turn a blind eye to environmental degradation. A major problem faced in the major cities of Sri Lanka is disposal of solid waste or garbage.I am aware that the World Bank at the request of the Chairperson of the Western Provincian Council (later President Chandrika Bandaranayake Kumaratunge) in early 1990's formulated a integrated solid waste (garbage) disposal plan with the setting up of an incenarator and rail tracks to haul garbage from verious parts of the Greater Colombo area.However the present Minister of Education who was a Provincial Councillor at that time appealed to the Chairperson not to go ahead with this project as it was to be located in his electorate.The World Bank had spent a couple of millions of Dollars for the easibility study and announced that it will never fund any solid waste disposal project in Sri Lanka in the future.We are faced with this garbage problem mainly due to the action of a selfish Ministerwho did not want this problem solvedas he thought of losing his votes.How can Sri lanka develop with such selfish lawmakers? The above are some of the examples where politicians and corrupt officials are doing to the well being of the people of Sri Lanka who would like to live in an environment devoid of natural disasters and climate change.Sri Lanka will never promote green development for at least the next five decades until all these corrupt politicians and their henchmen and senior officials who are the decision makers are eliminated by the ballot.Politics has ruined this country for the past 60 years and if not for such divisive politics we would have definitely overtook Singapore.The pipedream of the present Govrnment to make Sri Lanka an aviation naval information technology hub in Asia will remain a pipedream until all the corrupt lawmakers their henchmen family bandysm and patronage and senior government servants corrupt to the core are eliminated.In conclusion there is no room for civil society organizations to operate unless there is political patronge from the government.We also have the Blue Brigade headed by the President's son who is politicizing all layers of society under the pretext of giving pride of place to the youth.The only question I would ask the Government is "whether we are promoting Democracy or Dictatorship as in Myanmar of Iran?"I hope the answer will be expected after the 8 th. Of April.

Submitted by peter dias amarasinghe on
Thanks Dilini/Joe for your comments. South Asia is very rich in PRD experiences. Fore.g Change Agent Programme in Sri Lanka, Bhoomi Sena Movement in India, Comilla PROSHIKA in Bangladesh are a few examples. I am not sure whether we learned much from these programmes. What is important is to create environment conducive for community led processes (rights based approaches to development). I made a presentation on Community Led Rights Based Disaster Management at an international seminar held in Colombo in 2008 which I am prepared to share with anybody interested in the subject.

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