Puttalam, 27 March 2019: In commemoration of World Water Day 2019, Shangri La partnered with UNDP to protect the cascades in the North Western Province of Sri Lanka recently. By pledging to plant an initial 800 trees to protect the Mahadhodanaththewa tank in the Madde Ramabawa Cascade, both Shangri La and UNDP are working together to realize the vision of a sustainable and climate resilient Sri Lanka.
Over 2400 years ago, the ancient kings of Sri Lanka built a sophisticated network of small tanks connected by canals to large reservoirs to collect and redistribute every single drop of rain the land received. The tanks were built in cascading systems, using the natural inclination and topography of the land, full of small watersheds. They kept the natural cycle of water through soil, vegetation and atmosphere. The main goal of the system was to save and re-use water, allowing cultivation of rice in the dry zone. Tanks, paddy fields, watersheds, canals and natural ecosystems were perfectly interlaced. These cascades provided the ultimate solution for communities, particular smallholder farmers, to survive - providing both food and water security. However today, many of these tanks need to be revitalized. Furthermore, with erratic changes in the climate, shifting from extreme drought to floods, these cascades now need to be upgraded.
Despite the importance of these water bodies much of it has been neglected by man. Furthermore, deforestation across the area has also made the area more dryer making survival difficult for communities and animals. The dryzone is now hotter than ever. Clean water and food are scarce and is often a luxury to the community around. Farmers are struggling to make ends meet with crops dying failing to make yield. Animals are affected too. Elephants are now increasingly making their way towards villages in search of water causing a growing human-elephant conflict.
It is in this situation that the Government of Sri Lanka, is implementing the ‘Climate Resilient Integrated Water Management Project’ (CRIWMP) with technical support from the United Nations Development Programme. This is a seven-year Project targeting vulnerable households in three river basins - the Malwathu Oya, Mi Oya, and Yan Oya (rivers)- which flows through the Northern part of the Dry Zone. These river basins which are among the most vulnerable to the effects of the climate change, have a high presence of village irrigation systems and cascade systems on which smallholder farming populations depend for their livelihoods – most of whom are women. The area also significantly lacks safe drinking water, which pose a high risk of kidney disease to communities.
Speaking about this project, Resident Representative of UNDP Sri Lanka, Mr. Jorn Sorensen stated, “UNDP has supported the Government of Sri Lanka for over five decades and we remain committed to continue working closely with the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment to implement this project to strengthen the resilience of vulnerable smallholder farmers in the country’s Dry Zone who are facing increasing risks of rising temperatures, erratic rainfall, and extreme events attributable to climate change.”
Further recognizing the importance of protecting these water bodies, the Project has also started a tree planting programme with a target of planting one million trees by the end of the Project cycle. With this collaboration with Shangri La, the Project has now planted close to 10,000 trees in the last 3 months and is on its way to plant thousands more.
Speaking on this initiative, the General Manager and Executive Vice President of Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo
Mr. Timothy Wright stated, We are humbled to be associated with such a partnership as it not only helps the environment, it also helps to improve the soil quality, increase shade and provide biomass, all of which can help in growing food crops in the future. This kind of symbiosis in sustainable development mechanisms to preserve and restore a site’s natural ecosystem always stands firm in the ethos of Shangri-La.”
In the past, tanks in the dry zone had well maintained tree girdles or the “gasgomman” along the upper shore lines in them when the tanks are full of water. Today, due to unsustainable human activities, only a few tanks are surrounded by tree girdles which protect the water reserves as a wind barrier to avoid dry wind causing high evaporation traversing over the tank surface. Native plants such as Kumbuk [Terminalia arjuna], Karanda [Milletia pinnata], Mee [Nauclea orientails], Maila [Bauhinia racemose] and Damba [Syzygium cumini] are therefore now being planted around these tanks to protect the water.
The planting of these native trees is a building block to sustain the livelihoods of the farmers in the Dryzone and the protection of the entire cascade system which makes up an interwoven irrigation network of tanks, paddy fields, watersheds and canals – all one ecosystem.