Reviving Sri Lanka’s cascade tank system helps farmers cope with water shortages

ECONOMYNEXT – Restoring Sri Lanka’s ancient system of irrigation reservoirs is helping farmers in the dry zone better cope with shortages of water for drinking and agriculture that are worsened by climate change-induced shifts in seasonal rainfall patterns.

The government project, supported by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) with money from the Green Climate Fund (GCF) will directly benefit 800,000 people in farming communities depending on agriculture for food and income.

“Although it is still in the early stages, the project has some exciting results,” said David Annandale, an international environmental consultant with the GCF’s Independent Evaluation Unit, assessing the project.

“The beneficiaries clearly want this project, which is a good start.”

The UNDP said in a statement the seven-year project ending in 2024) involves rehabilitating 325 reservoirs, of an ancient water distribution structure known as the cascade system.

The selected 16 cascades consist of hundreds of small reservoirs known as “tanks”, all connected by irrigation channels.

"Over the years, the system has fallen into disrepair,” Annandale wrote in a report after a field visit to the dry zone, a large flat area in the north of the island, where there are acute water shortages.

“This project aims to rehabilitate especially deprived parts of this system. A component of the project is also focused on harvesting rainwater for villages and households.”

Annandale visited a number of sites, and spoke with villagers, contractors, and representatives of Civil Society Organization hired by UNDP to do community consultation and mobilization work.

“I have rarely seen such a successful project,” he said. “The interaction of partners at different levels of the Government is impressive, as is the carefully constructed community involvement work, and the involvement of villagers in project design.”

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The project has a greater impact on the wider community with an estimated reach of more than one million people.
 
The cascade system is one of the oldest water mobilisation schemes on the planet, and Anandale said it was great to see it being brought back to life through collective consultation and community participation.

" . . . this how development can and should work.The end result – more farmers in Sri Lanka’s dry zone are more resilient to the adverse effects of climate change.”
(COLOMBO, 23 August 2019)