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On 8 October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published the final version of its ‘Special Report on 1.5 Degrees’.

The report shows that there are grave impacts at 1.5 degrees of global warming and already at the present 1 degree: anything beyond 1.5-degrees will lead to cataclysmic climate change posing an existential threat to billions of people, many of them in the poorest regions of the world: from island nations to big developed countries. The impact this will have on countries like Sri Lanka cannot be overstated.

Vulnerable populations will have to adapt to the changing climate patterns. In a country where the Dry Zone covers 70% of the island’s land area, the effects of climate change can be extreme. This is further exacerbated as this is the country’s agricultural heartland where the staple rice is grown. 


When crops fail due to climate variability, farmers, especially women, are dragged deeper into poverty. The ever-changing climate patterns coupled with the shortage of food and lack of access to quality water drive these communities even further into a state of vulnerability. Having grown up relying on the natural eco-system around them, farmers are particularly now feeling the effects of climate change when they are no longer able to survive on their simple way of life.


Meet Bisomanike. As a mother of three, she takes care of her family, solely relying on farming in Palugaswewa, Anuradhapura, a Dry Zone area in Sri Lanka, about 175 km north of the Colombo. Eighteen years ago, E.M.W. Bisomanike, 58, lost her husband and since then she has raised her three children on her own. Today. her son is working at a hotel nearby, her daughter is married and has her own family, and the youngest daughter is an undergraduate studying at a national University. Despite the hardships, Bisomanike is proud of her kids’ accomplishments.


This is S.M Baleswary from the Mathavaithyakulam cascade in Vavuniya in the North of Sri Lanka. The area she lives in does not have any water filtering equipment and as a result she is forced to pay Rs.3/= for every liter of clean water. Unable to afford such costs, she and her two daughters have to resort to untreated, contaminated water.

As smallholder farmers in the Dry Zone, the impacts of climate-related rainfall variability and extreme events have directly affected Bisomanike’s and Baleswary's income generation and access to clean water and food. Over the past 4 years, large spells of drought have hit this region hard, making life more difficult for Bisomanike and Baleswary and others in the Dryzone. With the area dry and humid, water is scarce forcing women to travel several kms to access quality water. Crop yields are also low, threatening her livelihood. Although she owns 4 acres of land, the effects of climate change only allows her to cultivate a quarter of the land. Life as they know it has now completely changed, as they now no longer are able to rely on their surroundings to sustain their families.




The Government of Sri Lanka, with technical support from the UNDP Sri Lanka and financing from the Green Climate Fund, is supporting these smallholder farming families through the 7 year ‘Climate Resilient Integrated Water Management Project - with women being a key focus.

In addition to managing the household and the livestock, women in the Dry Zone traditionally take full responsibility for the care of children, the disabled and the elderly. They are therefore at the frontline of managing the impacts of reduced water availability.

Yet while the vulnerability of women is heightened, their role also makes them central players in the agricultural sector and, therefore, food security, livelihoods and water management, making the empowerment of women through better access to water one of the main objectives of the Project.

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