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Farmers protest water shortages

Drought putting thousands of hectares of farmland under threat, they say

Rice fields are under threat from severe drought. Rice fields are under threat from severe drought.
  • ucanews.com reporters, Polonnaruwa
  • Sri Lanka
  • July 10, 2012
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Thousands of drought-affected farmers protested in the eastern city of Polonnaruwa yesterday, blocking roads to demand the government provide more water supplies.

They say late monsoon rains coupled with poor irrigation infrastructure have created an acute water shortage that threatens to destroy their rice and other crops.

"We’ve been experiencing drought now for about five months, and our rice fields are facing the threat of being destroyed because an adequate water supply is not being provided,” said Kaudulle Jayatissa, president of the Progressive Peasants' Association in Polonnaruwa.

"It is urgent that old and dilapidated irrigation systems, feeder canals and tanks in drought-affected areas be repaired, cleared and upgraded,” he said.

“Politicians and their relatives get water from tanks for their hotels and businesses but we farmers are getting water rations every 10 days,” he added.

Many small reservoirs have gone dry and many farmers have already lost their crops, forcing them to seek government help, representatives from various farmers’ unions said.

“The government should provide necessary compensation and do all it can to quickly solve irrigation problems,” said Gunawardana Vasalathanthri, secretary of the Sansungama Farmers’ Association.

The government, which admits up to 61,000 hectares of arable land are under threat, says there’s not much it can do about the weather, but admitted more could be done to improve water storage and improving irrigation channels and systems.

Irrigation and Water Management Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva said there are hundreds of irrigation canals and tanks that have become filled with silt and been rendered useless because of neglect.

The government will provide maximum assistance to farming communities affected by the drought, he said.

Meanwhile, Wildlife Department sources said complaints about elephants invading villages are on the increase as many tanks and water retention areas in wildlife parks and sanctuaries have gone dry. They said thirsty elephants in search of water are destroying agricultural land and have attacked farmers.

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