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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Monday, May 02, 2005

Farmers fight drought with UNDP rain harvesting tanks

Daily News: "30/04/2005

IN drought-ridden Moneragala district, farmers in two villages are brimming over with relief as they watch the prevailing seasonal showers fill new cement rain harvesting tanks.

Kithulkote resident R. M. Padmawathie is egging on masons to complete work on the huge globular tank in her yard, before the rains intensify in coming weeks, while villager Mudalihami and his son have cleaned out theirs in keen anticipation.

They are beneficiaries of a US $ 25,000 United Nations Development Program (UNDP) pilot project to collect scarce water in one of the island's most parched regions.

Using low-cost technology provided by the Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG), the UNDP has helped several residents in Kithulkote and Kotiyagala install and maintain the tanks to tide over the annual dry season between June and November.

The project funds the setting up of 90 domestic, two community and eight irrigation tanks which will supply household needs and prop up the vulnerable agrarian economy in the district.

Masons and carpenters have been at work in the last four months constructing the 7,000-litre wire mesh and cement receptacles in homes, 15,000-litre tanks for community use and ground-level tanks which store rainwater for agricultural use.

"Globally, there has not been enough focus on disaster mitigation, only on emergency responses to disasters,' said Ramraj Narasimhan, UNDP's Program Officer in charge of Disaster Management. "This pilot project is not going to change the face of the place, but it is a small start."

In the rain-starved region, villagers would haul water from dwindling rivers like the Kirinde Oya and Kuda Oya to their homes or desperately dig numerous small wells by the rivers in search of water.

Farmers who traditionally cultivate chillies, onions and vegetables in the main Maha season, languish during the rainless months for lack of irrigation. Says ITDG's Ramitha Wijetunga: "Usually, the villagers' drinking water needs are met with bowsers supplying water, but work in the fields comes to a standstill. So, the people in these villages are really positive about the effect this project will have."

Despite having to contribute labour and a part of the building materials, villagers were eager to sign up as participants, seeing the supervision and support provided by UNDP and ITDG officers.

Initiation to the project included training workshops for the participants outlining the use and, more importantly, the long-term maintenance of the tanks.

They are told to clear leaves and other debris from roofs, make sure the gutters are unimpeded and to use the first fall of rain to flush out the tanks. Users also have to guard against allowing the tanks to run completely dry to prevent the structure cracking.

Besides their usual crops, farmers are encouraged to grow high-yielding produce like jak fruit, bread fruit and mango trees which do not require watering after maturing.

Field officers of the Janashakthi Development Centre, a regional non-governmental organisation, help the UNDP and ITDG keep close tabs on the ongoing work with the supervision extending to at least a year so that the impact and benefits of the project can be assessed.

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