Overview of Groundwater Management, the Agrowell Program, and the Impact of the 2004 Tsunami in Sri Lanka

In IRES Vol.6 No.2
Peer-reviewed Article

The demand for groundwater in Sri Lanka has grown rapidly over the past few decades, mainly as a result of population growth, economic development, and shortages in rainfall. Recent estimates show that over 55 percent of the population now relies on it for their daily needs. As a free, easily tapped commodity groundwater is used in a wide variety of uses such as small-scale irrigation, domestic supply, housing developments, industries and industrial promotion zones, hotels, and aquaculture. Groundwater is being exploited at an unprecedented rate, encouraged in part by subsidies to promote the use of groundwater wells for agriculture (agrowells). For example, the number of them has grown over the last two decades from 0 to over 50,000, mostly in the northwest region. Of the 300 urban and rural piped water supply schemes operating across the country, almost one-third of them rely entirely on groundwater. The volume they withdraw exceeds over 16 million cubic meters per year (Mm3/yr), which includes supply to many industrial zones and urban and rural centers. And the volume of groundwater abstracted by around 11 million individual domestic users (out of the 13 million people with no access to piped water) is estimated at around 400 Mm3/yr. The increased extraction of groundwater for irrigation, combined with the pollution and damage caused to the coastal groundwater resource by the 2004 tsunami event-which affected more than 60,000 wells throughout the coastal zone, and in some places, almost up to 1.5 km inland-has raised more concerns about the sustainable management of this valuable resource.


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