r Ministry of Defence - Sri Lanka

The Interplay of Climate Change & Water Shortages in Sri Lanka’s Ecosystems

November 09, 2023

by Darshika Sewwandi

Introduction to the Interplay

Climate change is a long-term change in the way temperatures and weather behave. These changes can happen on their own, like when the sun’s energy changes or when a volcano erupts. Since the 1800s, human actions, especially the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas, have been the major cause of climate change. In its Sixth Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that South Asia is one of the “global hotspots of high human vulnerability” in a warming world. Sri Lanka is a tropical island in the Indian Ocean. Climate change has always affected it, and the Global Climate Risk Index puts it in the top ten countries most likely to be hit by extreme weather. Climate change is already having long-term effects on Sri Lanka, based on how things are right now. This is clear from the fact that there is not enough water right now, which happens when the water demand is higher than the supply.

Impact of Climate Change on Water Scarcity

Scientists say that from March to September, Sri Lanka gets about 2,500 millilitres of rain each year. (Island 2023) As climate change is having an effect, this amount and the time it was received were changed. So, they think that Sri Lanka will soon run out of water, including drinking water. The two months before, there was not enough water. Water shortages have a big effect on food security and economic security in the world today. In the past, farmers frequently started cultivation during rainy seasons. They frequently train during seasonal rainfalls. However, the anticipated rainfall was not delivered during the previous month, leaving their agriculture in a serious situation due to a lack of water. Since rice is the main food in Sri Lanka, this has had a direct influence on the economy of the country.

Consequences for Ecosystems

Climate change, along with environmental degradation, biodiversity loss, pollution, supply chain disruptions, and other economic problems, are the main causes of risks that affect all sectors and levels, from individual households to whole businesses. These changes have a big effect on wild animals because they don’t have enough water to drink or a place to live, which can lead to dehydration, malnutrition, or even death. Since the last few months, the water level in the Udawalawa reservoir has been slowly going down, which has had some serious effects. Most of the wild animals that lived there had trouble because of it (Ceylon Today, 2023). When there is less water available, the number of fish and amphibians decreases. Predators that eat these species may find their food sources shrinking, which could cause their numbers to drop as well.

A lack of water leads to effects through the food chain and has the worst effect on Sri Lanka’s water supplies. Although farmers and researchers may be able to adapt some agricultural techniques and technologies or develop new methods, some changes will be difficult to manage; hence, farmers face problems like rising temperatures, drought and water stress, diseases, and extreme weather during farming.

Sri Lanka’s lack of water has large, interconnected effects on the environment. It is not only threatening the survival of wildlife but also the changes in biodiversity and the benefits that ecosystems provide to both nature and people. Getting rid of water shortages in a sustainable way is important not only for people’s health but also for keeping Sri Lanka’s rich and varied natural resources safe.

Vulnerable communities

Climate change has different effects on different facets of society. Long-term changes in the climate and rapid extreme weather events like droughts pose major risks to all people in Sri Lanka and their lifestyles. Women, children, the elderly, and people with low immunity to diseases are especially vulnerable and affected. Human health problems can make people die earlier, make it harder to get food, and make people less productive at work.

Government initiatives

Article 27 of the Constitution says that the government is duty-bound to protect ecologically sensitive areas and nature. Because of this, they must come up with ways to reduce the impacts of climate change and hold awareness programmes to teach the public about the problem. Respondents’ inaction goes against international environmental law principles such as sustainable development, intergenerational justice, precautionary action, public interest litigation, polluter pays, and public trust, which are now part of Sri Lankan law. The United Nations Development Programme’s Sustainable Development Goal No. 13 says that we need to move quickly to fight climate change and its effects. Article 6 of the Paris Agreement says that countries can work together to lower greenhouse gas emissions around the world by trading carbon on an international level.

The Paris Agreement is a turning point in the multilateral process for dealing with climate change because, for the first time, it brings all nations together under a legally binding agreement to fight climate change and adjust to its effects. As a member of the United Nations and the Paris Agreement, Sri Lanka has to take steps to adjust to climate change and lessen the effects of climate change. But if Sri Lanka doesn’t do what it’s supposed to under international law, the country will have to deal with restrictions on foreign trade and other problems. So, the governments of Sri Lanka and Singapore will agree on how to work together on carbon neutrality within the framework of the Paris Agreement.

To deal with the effects of climate change, the Sri Lankan government has set up several offices, such as the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, the Ministry of Agriculture, Lands, and Forestry, the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, and the Ministry of Estate Housing and Community Infrastructure. These ministries and bodies, like the Central Environmental Authority, Sri Lanka Disaster Management Centre, Coast Guard Authority, and Marine Environment Protection Authority, are working to put local mitigation measures into place. The National Adaptation Plan (NAP) for Climate Change Impacts in Sri Lanka was made by following the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) broad set of rules. In 2016, Sri Lanka joined the UNFCC by signing the Paris Agreement. This is a legally binding international deal on climate change. So, this agreement urges all the countries that signed it to work together more to make it easier for people to adapt to climate change and to reduce the possible effects of climate change. Some steps have been taken by the government to deal with climate change.

Global Examples

Most of the countries in the world have signed the Paris Agreement, including big sources of greenhouse gases like China and India, both now and in the future. These countries are already taking steps to deal with climate change, and they are becoming more aware of the chances for them and their people to build a future with no carbon emissions and a growing, green economy.

Some governments in the world have taken several steps to deal with these problems. With help from the European Union and the World Bank, local governments in Solomon Island set up a project to provide a water source that can handle changes in the weather. To do this, they improved the water treatment facilities, built two reservoirs, and fixed the water pipes so that they could identify leaks. Because of these, they could reduce water loss by 30% and increase the amount of water they could provide and their security. As a result of these, they could reduce water loss by 30% while increasing supply capacity and security.


Since security is not only about physical aspects, it is important to address soft security threats as well. The Sixth Assessment Report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the international body for assessing climate science, states that “without rapid, deep, and sustained mitigation and accelerated adaptation actions, losses and damages will continue to increase and will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable populations. Irrespective of all the measures taken by the government, there needs to be effective allocation and integration among the many ministries since one ministry is not capable of handling this problem on its own.

To overcome these significant challenges, the management of innovative approaches and an in-depth understanding of social and environmental issues are vital. It is important to adopt the proper risk assessment for Sri Lanka to mitigate the impacts of climate change. There are opportunities to scale up these existing mechanisms of risk assessment by closing existing gaps and implementing them properly. Key areas for improving the Sri Lankan risk management framework include awareness and education regarding the environment for the general public. For that, multi-stakeholder coordination, including local government, private sector, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), proper decision-making processes, manipulating new and innovative risk management instruments, and connecting national and international organisations, such as the UN climate change convention,

Countries ensure that water scarcity and climate change always have a dedicated discussion during multi-stakeholder planning activities in the country. This might include examples such as risk-informed workshops, targeted climate change risk assessments, and adaptation planning exercises for water management. As a technological solution, early warning systems need to be scaled up in the region to tackle water scarcity and compound climate change risks. The general public can play a significant role in solving the critical issue of water scarcity through various means. This may include adopting sustainable water consumption practices, supporting the development of advanced water filtration systems, implementing rainwater harvesting systems, working proactively to prevent leaks and other water inefficiencies, and installing low-flow toilets. These actions allow the public to address and contribute to the problem of water scarcity at the grassroots level.


The impact of climate change on water scarcity in Sri Lanka is a pressing issue with far-reaching consequences for the nation’s environment, economy, and vulnerable communities. The changing rainfall patterns and decreasing water availability pose significant challenges to agriculture, wildlife, and the overall ecosystem. The Sri Lankan government has taken steps to address climate change through various ministries and initiatives, aligning with international agreements like the Paris Agreement. However, effective coordination among ministries and stakeholders is essential to tackle this complex problem comprehensively. Sri Lanka needs to adopt a holistic risk management framework that includes awareness, education, and cooperation at both national and international levels.

Addressing water scarcity in the face of climate change requires an integrated effort from all sectors of society, as well as a commitment to sustainable practices and international cooperation. Failure to take decisive action may lead to severe consequences not only for Sri Lanka but for the global community as a whole.


United Nations, “Water and Climate Change.” https://www.unwater.org/water-facts/water-and-climate-change

United Nations, “What is Climate Change?” https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/what-is-climate-change

Smith, Jane. “Rising Temperatures Exacerbate Water Scarcity in the Western U.S.” Chicago Tribune, July 15, 2022.

Brown, Michael G., et al., “Mitigating Climate Change Impacts on Water Scarcity: A Comprehensive Review.” Environmental Research Letters 38, no. 2 (2018): 210–225


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* U.G.A. Darshika Sewwandi is an Intern (Research) at the Institute of National Security Studies (INSS), the premier think-tank on National Security established and functioning under the Ministry of Defence. The opinion expressed is her own and not necessarily reflective of the institute or the Ministry of Defence.



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