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Sri Lanka: Policy Recommendations

Summary of recommendations for Sri Lanka

Policy makers from all sectors urgently need to focus attention on the implications of climate change. Support for adaptation to the impacts must start now. Many aspects of climate change and variability are already having a profound effect on the livelihoods of poor rural communities, and enough is known about the future impacts of climate change for action to be taken now. The vulnerability of the poorest to climate change is a central challenge and ‘no regrets’ adaptation options, which focus on poverty relief through diversifying livelihoods and extension support for sustainable agricultural systems, must be a priority.

In particular, action is required in the following areas:

Central government


  • Climate change is not just an issue for those in government with responsibility for the environment.


  • All government departments must acknowledge the importance of climate change and analyse the impacts for their sector. Disaster planning and risk reduction strategies must account for the new challenges of climate induced disasters.
  • Central government will need to support decentralised policy development so that appropriate adaptation activities can be planned and to prevent the imposition of ‘one size fits all’ solutions. National level activities need to support the distribution of resources and extension services to the local level, training and awareness raising in communities, research for technology generation, information provision, and take forward international lobbying.

Water management


  • Increasing water scarcity, in particular driven by increased irrigation demands due to higher rates of evaporation, is likely. Extreme rainfall events, which are predicted to increase in frequency, will bring no relief, instead washing off valuable topsoil and silting up reservoirs that may otherwise have stored water.


  • The Ministry of Irrigation and Water Management should examine the capacity and location of reservoirs and tanks to take advantage of more intense and shorter rain periods. Mechanisms to stop silting of current tanks by erosion due to heavier rainfall should be investigated, including adaptation measures such as growing trees around tanks.
  • The Ministry of Water Supply and Drainage should look at the current and future water supply needs of communities. The collection of water through rain harvesting technologies should be promoted in the communities that will be most affected by water shortage. The use of wells should also be encouraged, for example through taxes not being applied to informal water sources.

Agricultural policy and extension support


  • Agriculture will be particularly hit by climate change, threatening the livelihoods of Sri Lanka’s rural poor and undermining food security across the country. Estimates suggest that rice yield could be reduced by nearly 6% for just a 0.5°C temperature rise, whilst salt water intrusion creates greater losses as paddies salinity increases. Water stress on crops is likely to increase, and for upland crops in particular. Even small reductions in rainfall are anticipated to cause a several fold decrease in ground water replenishment, with severe implications for intensive agricultural production in Sri Lanka’s sandy soil regions.


  • Ministry of Plantations should study the affects of climate change on tea, rubber and coconut plantations, whilst the Ministry of Agricultural Development and Agrarian Services Development should look at using different varieties of seeds.
  • Ministries should use local knowledge and work with farmer communities and national farmer federations when working on options for adaptation. These should take into account the different needs of communities and the different challenges which will have to be faced, from rising temperatures and drought to saline intrusion. Local knowledge should also be used to identify changes in cropping seasons, whilst irrigation management should be explored with farming communities to help avoid drought.



  • Flooding, precipitation rise and sea level rise will all pollute surface water, leading to an increase in cholera, diarrhoeal and skin diseases. Increases in the epidemic potential for malaria and dengue fever are also anticipated.


  • Ministry of Health to examine which areas of Sri Lanka will be affected by what types of health impacts from climate change. The Ministry should publicise potential impacts and develop knowledge at community level on climate change health impacts and solutions.

Coastal low lying areas


  • Coastal and low lying areas will face the brunt of climate change in the form of sea level rises. Not only will this lead to further erosion and loss of land, but also to the loss of livelihoods and possibly migration from these areas. As a large amount of economic activity and population lives in coastal areas, the impact of sea level change will be profound.


  • Areas affected by sea level rise need to be outlined and the affected communities informed of the consequences of living in these areas. Programmes need to be set up to help communities change or adapt their livelihoods, for example through tourism for communities whose livelihoods are based around coral reefs.
  • Communities should be helped to protect coral reef systems, which help stem the erosion of coastal areas. The government needs to ensure regular and systematic water temperature monitoring and, if necessary, the establishment of temperature resistant coral species needs to be examined.

Ecosystems and biodiversity


  • Ecosystems and biodiversity are essential to supporting rural livelihoods and a rich biodiversity is central to providing options for adaptation. However, grasslands are particularly under threat from climate change, whilst sea level rise and surface temperature rise threatens coastal ecosystems, rich in biodiversity, and coral reefs are at risk of bleaching from higher temperatures. Sea level rise also leads to salt water intrusion into estuary and lagoon systems, threatening these habitats.


  • Communities should be supported to protect ecosystems and biodiversity. Home gardening in communities, for example, can be promoted to protect indigenous plants. Government and non-governmental organisations should work together to provide capacity building in ecosystem management the sustainable use of ecosystem goods and services, and promote consultation between different stakeholders.
  • Awareness raising amongst teachers and school children on biodiversity conservation and climate change issues should be promoted.

Download Report

Climate Change in Sri Lanka

Related Pages

Practical Action Climate Change Briefing Sri Lanka

Climate Projections for Sri Lanka

Adaptation options for Sri Lanka

Related resources

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