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[COLOMBO] Sri Lanka has launched this month (October) a multi-million dollar survey to cover nine of its 15 main river basins and formulate a comprehensive flood and drought mitigation plan.

The US$13 million basin investment plan undertaken by the Ministry of Irrigation and Water Management is funded by a World Bank loan, which is a part of a larger US$110 million climate resilience plan and includes a US$90 million investment by the World Bank in improving drought and flood management, transport networks and vulnerable schools. [1]

“The survey will give us a clear idea as to what we should do to mitigate the increasing fluctuations in water availability in Sri Lanka prompted by the wildly varying rain patterns,” Ivan de Silva, the Secretary to Ministry of Irrigation and Water Management tells SciDev.Net.

Comprehensive flood and drought modelling, expected to conclude by 2017, will be carried out in nine river basins — Mahaweli, Maha Oya, Deduru Oya, Kelani Ganga, Attanagalu Oya, Kala Oya, Gin Ganga, Nilwala Ganga, and Gal Oya.

“Once the risk mitigation investment plans are developed, we expect the finances needed to implement climate resilience related investment initiatives to be more than US$1 billion,” says Suranga Kahandawa, World Bank disaster risk management specialist. “The government will decide how they want these investments to be financed and the Bank will also be interested in financing a part of it.”

De Silva said that the island’s development potential has been dented due to its inability to adapt to changing monsoon patterns. In 2013, a higher than average monsoon resulted in flooding but also a bumper rice crop of over four million metric tons.

This year’s 11-month-long drought worsened by a weak monsoon has affected over 1.6 million people and cut the rice crop by at least 20 per cent. The World Bank estimates that Sri Lanka runs an annual risk of US$380 million due to climate related disasters [2].

“It is all about managing water, and to do that we need good data — this survey will provide that,” de Silva said.

D. C. S. Elakanda, project director for the climate resilience project, says that once the survey is complete, similar studies would be carried out in the country’s six other basins.

The survey is part of our on-going efforts to understand the impact of climate risk and devise suitable interventions,” says Elakanda. More than half of Sri Lanka’s 20 million people are expected to benefit from the climate resilience project.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's South Asia desk.