Holy Week under attack from Mother Nature in Sri Lanka

Global warming cited for drought-inspired water shortages as parishes think twice about 'unsafe' Easter activities
Holy Week under attack from Mother Nature in Sri Lanka

Ertharin Cousin, who served as executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme from 2012-17, meets locals while visiting Tanamalwila village in Monaragala district in February 2017. She was overseeing the launch of a new program aimed at tackling Sri Lanka's annual drought problems. (ucanews.com photo)

ucanews.com reporter, Negombo
Sri Lanka
April 18, 2019
Catholics in Sri Lanka have expressed concern about their ability to hold regular services during Holy Week due to the scorching weather, lack of rain and the continued threat of government-imposed power cuts.

Mary Patricia, a laywoman who volunteers with the Legion of Mary in capital Colombo, said Catholics in many parishes were planning a three-hour outdoor Way of the Cross pilgrimage around Easter but added this may now have to be called off.

"All of these power cuts, combined with the sweltering weather, could affect services scheduled for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday," she said, explaining that the services from April 18-20 were due to include outdoor activities.

With the mercury hitting 38 degrees Celsius this month, the sweltering heat is potentially dangerous, especially for young children and the elderly. 

The punishing heat and lack of rainfall have caused reservoirs, rivers and water tanks to dry up at an alarming pace as another drought ravages Sri Lanka's potable and other water supplies, threatening crops, livestock and people's livelihoods.

"Many reservoirs and rivers have emptied due to the lack of monsoon rains this year," said Naveen Kosgoda, a farmer activist from Anuradhapura in North Central Province.

"The country is suffering from chronic water shortages. Power cuts at day and night are making matters worse because they disturb the production schedules of small businessmen."

The government has been imposing daily power cuts as an urgent measure since the dried-up waterways have put a dent in the amount of hydropower available.

However, officials proudly announced in recent days that there had been no such outages during the Sinhala Tamil New Year, celebrated by Buddhists and Hindus from April 13-14.

According to the Disaster Management Center, the dry weather has affected over 580,000 people nationwide.

This prompted the Department of Meteorology to issue an advisory urging manual laborers to seek shade and take regular breaks.

The Ministry of Health has also released a set of guidelines, including a reminder that children should not be allowed to play outside in the midday heat nor left waiting in vehicles when it is baking hot outside.

Chandana Jayaratne, a professor of physical science at Colombo University, said Sri Lanka was experiencing its warmest weather in 140 years, partly as a result of global warming.

Meanwhile, Power and Energy Minister Ravi Karunanayake pledged to thwart future power outages by issuing more licenses for solar farms to diversify the country's energy supplies and rely less on hydropower.

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