Wednesday, February 15, 2017

SRI LANKA - Water crisis, a risk to public health: warning of the Church

The water crisis and the lack of safe drinking water causes a high risk to public health in Sri Lanka.

Many situations of poverty, suffering, disease of the population are linked to the issue of water scarcity and pollution is the alarm raised, in an interview with Fides, by Fr. Nayagam Roy Clarence, Director of the National Commission for the Laity, within the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Sri Lanka.

In the village of Puhudiwula and other villages in the district of Anuradhapura (in central northern Sri Lanka), many have renounced to using wells, as they cannot use the water present in aquifers or for drinking or for cooking food. The use of that water causes a deadly chronic kidney disease which has become an epidemic in the region. "It is a very difficult water crisis to deal with", observes Fr. Clarence.


The area is very dry, since the soil is clayish. This year, to save their rice harvest, trucks with water had to irrigate the fields. Climate change in these areas have caused drier climate, and higher temperatures, and the need for water has increased. The villages in this area, which for thirty years were the "front line" in the civil war, being on the border with the north of the island, of Tamil majority, are experiencing uncertainty. "Seven years after the end of the conflict, we need a lifeline", notes the priest.


In 2016, Sri Lanka was one of the first countries in the world to obtain a contribution of the Green Climate Fund. The Ministry of Development and Environment, with the help of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), received 38.1 million dollars to help communities deal with the consequences of climate change. Over the next few years, it is estimated that 770.500 people in the arid area, including the inhabitants of Puhudiwula, will experience the direct benefits of this program.


"This program will help local populations if people adopt precautionary measures to protect health and lives", notes Fr. Clarence. People will have to be convinced to stop using water from wells and to buy water to drink.


The widespread kidney disease, known as "Chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology" (CKDu), has been reported in many countries, but remains little known. According to existing studies, it is apparently caused by water contaminated with chemicals. 


The fact that men are more at risk has led researchers to consider the role dehydration and agricultural work plays, although it is likely that there is a combination of many factors. 

According to government figures, there are over 400 thousand victims of the disease across the country, and the mortality rate is about 1,400 people per year.

"In the face of this tragedy answers are urgently needed, and to provide clean water seems to be the first solution, the most obvious", says the priest. In rural societies, women are responsible for the supply of water for the family and household, and now they are forced to move far to find water.


"In this arid area of the country, the population is used to struggling to find enough water. The government, NGOs and the Church in Sri Lanka have to work together to address these issues and ensure safe drinking water to the population, improving their living conditions", said Fr. Clarence.

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