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    Sri Lanka: From organic farming to power cuts and water shortage

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    Sri Lanka: From organic farming to power cuts and water shortage

    Sri Lanka is facing foreign exchange shortages that have made it difficult to buy and import fuel. The situation has worsened after a coal-run power plant broke down, leaving the country to rely heavily on hydro-electric power.

    Grappling with power cuts, Sri Lanka’s economic crisis due to reduced foreign exchange is now threatening further electricity load-shedding. The power-guzzling capital city, Colombo, could face the major brunt of power cuts in such an event, according to knowledgeable sources.

    The country’s largest utility company, the Ceylon Electricity Board, has proposed an hour-long power cut to conserve water February and March, usually drought months in the island nation. This has been necessitated following a breakdown at a coal-run electricity power plant. The breakdown has been compounded by fuel shortages, which, in turn have been ascribed to the present economic crisis.

    Sri Lanka is facing foreign exchange shortages which has made it difficult to suddenly import extra fuel. This has worsened the situation after the coal-run power plant broke down.

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    The foreign exchange crisis, in turn has been blamed on an unplanned and hurried presidential fiat for all of the country’s farmers to discontinue the use of chemical fertilisers and instead, to switch to organic farming overnight.

    Sri Lanka’s energy minister Udaya Gammanpila has warned of multiple-hour-long power cuts, owing to ‘system imbalance’ caused by sufficient power to meet the regular requirement.

    He said that the Ceylon Electricity Board had no option but to switch off selected sections to avoid countrywide disruption of electricity. Whatever various interested parties say, power cuts were necessary and couldn’t be avoided, Minister Gammanpila said.

    The minister said that the CEB had no option but to switch off selected sections to avoid countrywide disruption of electricity.

    Minister Gammanpila’s, whose earlier proposal of a daily 90-minute power cut wasn’t acceded to by the government, said that the situation would continue to deteriorate until all stakeholders reach a consensus on the issue.

    Water crisis

    The Ceylon Electricity Board is charged with providing the capital city with water and also providing water for irrigation in the rural areas.

    Its officials say that avoiding power cuts is leading to further severe depletion of water storage in the dams and reservoirs. They add that it is no longer practical to continue to run down hydro reservoirs to avoid planned load shedding.

    The Ceylon Electricity Board provides water to Colombo from reserved storages in the Moussakelle and the Castlereigh reservoirs on the Kelani’s tributary rivers during the dry season. But the Moussakelle storage has already close to half its capacity and Castlereigh is close to a third.

    Based on the current usage to avoid power cuts at any cost, Castlerigh Reservoir is expected to run dry (minimum operating level) by the end of February. Moussakelle will reach minimum operating level by end March.

    With minimal rains, Kelani River water levels will fall to low levels without water from the two reservoirs. Besides, Laxapana and Canyon, the two other reservoirs have been reduced to bare ponds.

    The electricity board is also yet to renew its power purchase terms with the private petroleum-fuel power plants, ACE Matara and ACE Embilipitiya.

    As a result, Colombo city could also face drinking water shortages as the Ambatale water pumping station might not be able to pump water from the river Kelani to feed household taps in Colombo. It could get worse in the event of a delay in the April inter-monsoonal showers.

    The foreign exchange crisis could also impact agriculture and food production, unless water that is diverted to produce electricity is employed for irrigation, sources say.

     

    Image: Ceylon Electricity Board

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