Key to water problem of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province lies in management, says expert

Agriculture accounted for about two-thirds of the entire water demand of the Province, according to an expert.

The Northern Province of Sri Lanka, which is gradually recovering from effects of a prolonged civil war, is popularly perceived to be a water deficit region. But, the problem lies not in shortage of water resources but in lack of proper management of the available resources, according to S.S. Sivakumar, professor of civil engineering, University of Jaffna.

Though the province received, on an average, 120 cm of rainfall annually, the problem of water quality in Jaffna peninsula had assumed the proportions of a crisis because towns had now become more populous than in the past, as a result of the civil war, and the “contaminated source of groundwater” was being used for drinking, sewage disposal and agriculture, Dr. Sivakumar told The Hindu over the phone on Thursday evening.

In the last five years, he served as a member of a few official committees formed by the Sri Lankan government including one on the water sector of the North.

Giving an account of the present mix of water usage, the Kilinochchi-based veteran academician, said agriculture now accounted for about two-thirds of the entire water demand of the Province and industry, barely 10%. The mix could be changed in such a manner that 40% of the available water resources could be earmarked for purposes other than agriculture.

The North had “enough surface water resources” to cater to the requirements of not only the farm sector but also domestic consumption and industry. “The region is ideal for implementing the concept of integrated water resources management,” he observed.

In his recent work, “Northern River Basins Yield Study for Operational Policy of Irrigation Schemes & Water Resources and Agriculture Development Strategy for North – 2020-2035,” Dr. Sivakumar suggested that 60% of the water demand be met through existing schemes, using surface water, and 20% each through groundwater and seawater reverse osmosis.

He also called for the construction of a reservoir in Karupaddaimuripu, about 30 km from the Iranamadu tank near Kilinochchi, to serve the role of a flood regulator in view of the tank getting filled up once in two years on an average.

In the light of the Province having 23 river basins, Dr. Sivakumar wanted a multi-stakeholder body to manage the river basins instead of the existing arrangement of the Irrigation department solely being in charge of the basins.

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