Floods, one of the Common Natural Disasters in Sri Lanka

As you might already know, the weather and climate in Sri Lanka remain comparatively calm and warm during most of the months of the year. Still, the monsoons and other variations in the atmosphere make this beautiful island a victim of several natural disasters. Of course, natural disasters like the Tsunami are not that frequent in Sri Lanka. Still, floods, droughts, landslides, lightning strikes, and thunderstorms often happen. Nevertheless, due to the land’s diverse landscape and environment, variations of these disasters can be identified.

However, statistics of Natural Disaster Relief Services, Ministry of Disaster Management, Sri Lanka reveal an increase in natural disasters over the past years. Moreover, the occurrences of disasters in the country during the last decade have increased approximately 22 times. Various sources reveal that the impact of hydrometeorological events plays a major role in this unfortunate situation. Besides, a report released by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction further proves this fact.

Accordingly, Sri Lanka was among the three most affected countries in the 2017 estimate in terms of weather-related loss measures. Moreover, Sri Lanka was also the second-highest on the Climate Risk Index which takes into account mortalities and economic losses taking place as a result of extreme weather. Thus, it is clear that natural disasters cause negative socio-economic impacts in the country as a whole.

Anyway, what will happen if a traveler has to face any natural disaster in an unknown country? Thus, despite who or what you are, it is always better to have a good idea about the natural disasters in a country before you visit. Likewise, it is always better to get to know about the natural disasters in Sri Lanka as well. This would especially be beneficial if you have an interest in backpacking on this splendid island. Therefore, we are providing you a good overview of these disasters, and their impacts.

Natural Disasters that Sri Lanka faced recently

Sri Lanka is certainly blessed to be free of severe natural disasters like volcano eruptions, and tornadoes. Still, Sri Lanka faced a number of natural hazards in the years foregone. Some of them are frequent on this island, while some of them occur very rarely. However, below is a list of them which impacted the country as a whole in recent history.

1. Floods

2. Landslides

3. Droughts

4. Lightning

5. Sea-level Rise

6. Tsunami

Natural Disasters in Sri Lanka in detail 

Let us now have a look at the nature of these hazards that occur in Sri Lanka, the areas they affect, and the steps that we can follow to prevent their impact in the future.

Floods in Sri Lanka

Floods are certainly one of the relatively frequent natural disasters that Sri Lanka faces. Some areas experience slight floods, while some areas face extreme floods which disturbs the day to day lives of people. As you might already know, Sri Lankan weather and climate depends on monsoons. Accordingly, two main monsoon seasons bring rain.

The South-Western Monsoon brings rain to the cities in the South West quarter of the island. Accordingly, cities such as Colombo and Galle, get rain showers in the months of May to September. Northern Eastern monsoon gets active during the months of October to January. This monsoon even has an ability to affect the whole country, still, it highly affects the Northern Eastern quarter. However, there is a high possibility of getting floods, especially during these monsoon seasons. Floods being the most common natural disaster Sri Lanka faces, it is important to study a bit deeper about this.

Areas in Sri Lanka affected by floods

Most cities in the coastal and plain regions of Sri Lanka, have a high risk of flooding. Specifically, areas around North, North-central, Western and Eastern provinces rank top as per risk. Mostly, they occur as a result of water overflowing from rivers and lakes. Still, floods in urban areas like Colombo and Gampaha, in the western province are mainly due to accumulation of rain water. However, these floods will occur following rainfalls of nearly 300 mm continuously for a day or two. Still, this rainfall that influences a flood may vary from area to area depending on several factors.

Below are some of the districts that get highly affected by floods.

North CentralAnuradhapura
North WesternPuttalam

Floods may only occur in several areas of a country, but it highly impacts the country as a whole.

Reasons for floods in Sri Lanka

Floods are more frequent nowadays in Sri Lanka, than in the past. Several reasons are behind this unfortunate situation. Below are some of them.

  1. Unplanned urbanization that takes place
  2. The increasing establishments in flood-prone areas
  3. Infrastructure development neglecting potential flood risk
  4. Inadequate maintenance of stormwater drainage systems in the country.

Of course, floods can be minimized. All we have to do is to work accordingly. Here are some of the measures that we can take to prevent floods in the years to come.

  1. Following appropriate waste management systems and proper maintenance of storm water drainage systems.   
  2. Adapting standards when constructing houses or other buildings.
  3. Protecting wetlands and imposing planting strategies.
  4. Paying more attention to extreme weather conditions and climatic changes.
  5. Introducing water storage areas in urbanized areas,
  6. If possible, placing flood warning systems.

Landslides in Sri Lanka

Apart from floods, landslides happen to be the most common natural disaster in Sri Lanka. As same as floods, it is these heavy rains that trigger landslides. Thus, landslides are more frequent in monsoon seasons. Still, this doesn’t occur in coastal areas and plains as floods. The highly vulnerable areas for landslides are the hilly areas. Mostly, the central highlands in Sri Lanka.

Areas in Sri Lanka affected by landslides.

The level of risk lying upon various cities in the Central Highlands differ depending on several factors. However, cities in the Nuwara eliya district have a high risk for landslides. That is simply because it houses the highest areas of the country, along with the majority of the hills. Besides, Matale and Kurunegala districts have lesser risk, while districts such as Kalutara, Kandy and Badulla have moderate risk.

Reasons for landslides in Sri Lanka

As per various sources, the frequency of landslides in the country has increased heavily in the past years. Of course, there might be certain natural changes that influence these types of hazards. Nevertheless, there are a series of human activities that affect the occurrence of landslides as well. Best is to identify them and prevent them, in order to minimize landslides even in the future.

  1. Significant changes in land use that are related to overpopulation and various agricultural methods. 
  2. Deforestation and clearing in the mountainous areas, which loosens the soil, and decreases the water reservations.
  3. Blocking of drainage paths due to inappropriate waste release methods.
  4. Impact of large reservoir constructions that ignore the relevant standards.   
  5. Soil conservation programs which increase soil saturation as a result.

Of course, droughts can be prevented, even up to a certain limit, if we think right and work right! Here are a few steps that we can follow to minimize droughts.

  1. Avoiding building a large number of houses within a limited space, and following the relevant standards when performing the constructions.
  2. Minimizing clearing forests, especially in mountainous areas, and paying high attention when choosing the most appropriate plantations for those areas.
  3. Following suitable and standard methods for wastewater releasing and garbage discharge.      
  4. Performing environmental analysis prior to the commencement of soil conservation programmes.

Impacts of Floods and landslides in the recent Sri Lankan history

As you might already know, floods and landslides are the most common natural disasters that Sri Lanka faces. Therefore, the impact these disasters had on Sri Lankan lives over the past years cannot be considered slightly. The following  statistical data which depicts how floods affected Sri Lankan lives over the past 5 years proves this factor furthermore.

2015As per public sources, at least 18,917 persons were affected by floods in the year 2015.   
2016By mid 2016, the death toll of floods and landslides was 101, with 100 missing.
2017The flood in 2017 mainly affected 15 districts. As per reports, it killed around 208 people leaving 78 missing. Around 600,000 were displaced as a whole. 11,056 houses were partially damaged and 2,093 houses more were completely destroyed.
2018Floods in 2018 affected about 19 out of the 25 districts in Sri Lanka. Further, it killed approximately 21 people, leaving 23 as the count of missing people. Nearly 400, 000 people were displaced with 105 houses fully damaged. 
20192019 floods affected 13 districts as a whole, having 2 persons dead. Six injuries were reported and about 116, 000 people were affected. The count of damaged houses stood at 282 while 22 houses were completely destroyed mainly in two districts. 

Droughts in Sri Lanka

Unlike floods and landslides, droughts are not followed by rains. Still, the rainfall of the country has a strong relationship with droughts. By now, you clearly know that Sri Lanka gets rain over two monsoons. Still, these rain showers can be delayed, or rather missing due to various climatic changes that take place around the Indian Ocean. Moreover, Sri Lanka is popular as a country with a tropical climate, with plenty of sunshine over the year. By chance, if the balance of these dry and rainy seasons go out of control, a drought may occur.  

However, there are no extreme droughts reported over the past years. The most crucial case in the recent past is reported in the year 1992, with nearly 20 drought occurrences in the country. Apart from that somewhat severe droughts occurred in 2001 and 2004. And thereafter, Sri Lanka was fortunate enough to have no such serious droughts on this island.

Areas in Sri Lanka affected by droughts

The district with the highest drought risk is Anuradhapura. Apart from that, Badulla, Mannar, Hambantota, Puttalam, and Batticaloa Districts too have a considerably high tendency towards droughts. Moreover, districts of Kurunegala, Monaragala, and Ampara were also highly affected in the course of the major droughts. However, areas in the western slopes and the southwest corner of Sri Lanka with heavy rainfalls, have a very low vulnerability towards droughts.

Minimizing the chance for droughts in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is fortunate to experience a decrease in droughts in the course of the past few years. Yes, of course, it can be minimized furthermore. Moreover, if we fail in our responsibilities towards nature, there is no wonder that droughts might come up once again. Thus, in order to prevent them, it is important to be aware of the reasons behind these droughts. Knowing them, and accordingly working to prevent such droughts from happening again would be the best thing that we could do. Below are some common factors that pave the path for droughts.  

  1. Deforestation, and the decrease in planting trees.
  2. Dam constructions in reservaiours, going beyond the standards.
  3. Water pollution that makes the available amount of water unusable, and the wastage which results in reducing the amount of usable water.
  4. Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions 

Having a good idea about the reasons that cause droughts, now we can take necessary measures to prevent the chances of a drought occurring again. Below are some precautions that we can follow, to make that a reality.

  1. Plant as much as trees, while preventing cutting trees and clearing forests. 
  2. Dam constructions should be done adapting the necessary standards, and the relevant environment analysis should be performed prior to the constructions.
  3. Should avoid water wastage and necessary steps should be taken to prevent water pollution.

Lightning in Sri Lanka

We might not really notice it. Still, a large thunderstorm has a strength of producing around 100 lightning flashes, just within a minute. The electrical charge that they release has the ability, not only to damage properties but also to cause deaths. Of course, yes, that is why lightning is known as a natural occurrence that emerges as a frequent killer. However, around 20,000 people are affected by lightning all over the world each year. When considering Sri Lanka, the destructive potential of lightning kills approximately 20 Sri Lankans each year, Moreover, the reports reveal that the annual injuries reported due to lightning range at an average amount of 24. However, this is one of the natural disasters that have a moderate impact in Sri Lanka.

 Areas in Sri Lanka affected by lightning strikes

By now, you already know that lightning strikes occur parallel to thunderstorms. Thus, it is obvious that whatever an area that gets thunderstorms has the possibility of getting affected by thunderstorms.

If we study about these in detail, what we can identify is that April happens to be the month with the highest lightning strikes each year. Apart from that, the two intermonsoon seasons in Sri Lanka, which ranges from March to April, and October to November get frequent lightning strikes. Further, when considering the areas affected in detail, it depends on the monsoon that is in action. As per the reports of the Disaster Management Center in Sri Lanka, lightning has a high impact on the areas that lie opposite to the monsoon sector. Besides, the lightning becomes common in North Wetsern and South Western parts of the island, while having peaks in elevated areas as well.

Minimizing the lightning impacts in Sri Lanka

It is an obvious fact that lightning strikes are unpredictable. Still, whenever thunderstorms happen, any of us should understand the high possibility of lightning occurrences. Further, it is scientifically true that the lightning strike happens prior to the thunders. Yet, whenever thunders are heard, we should understand that lightning is happening as well.

However, an increase in lightning damages can be seen in the past decade. Hence, it is important to figure out the main reasons behind this significant growth.

  1. The general public tends to ignore the weather forecast and environmental changes.
  2. People live all day using electronic devices, yet do not pay proper attention to the safety measure when using them during rainy seasons. 
  3. People build houses and various other constructions ignoring the required standards, and safety methods. 

When going through these reasons, it is undeniable clear that these lightning damages can be easily prevented. The following set of precautions would certainly help with it.

  1. Minimizing the usage of electronic devices as much as possible when it is raining, and keeping the electronic devices and appliances unplugged. 
  2. Staying away from all forms of metal objects.
  3. Remaining indoors during thunderstorms, and it is safer to wear a pair of rubber slips.
  4. Should prevent standing in open areas such as grounds, paddy fields, etc. By chance, if there is no shelter to reach during lightning, when staying in a place as such, best is to squat low to the ground, while placing the hands on knees with the head between them. Lying flat in an open area is highly dangerous.  
  5. Should avoid standing under tall trees or towers.
  6. If possible, installing a home lightning protection system to the house is important.

 Sea-level Rise in Sri Lanka

As you know, Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by blue waves with beaches all around. Thus, the effect that the oceanic changes have on this island is surely high. However, this is not a problem that only Sri Lanka faces. Almost all the countries that have an oceanic border face this issue and the present conditions have made it a major concern in all these countries. As per the predictions, the worst-case scenario is to have a sea-level rise of around 59 cm within a time period of 100 years.

It might sound simple, yet the impact it has is broad. That is mainly due to the negative effects it follows, such as coastal erosion and land loss, sea flooding, and seawater intrusion into freshwater lenses. As you might already know, Sri Lanka is facing these issues at a considerable level in the present as well. Thus, this land is at a high risk of having more dangerous impacts in the years to come.

 Areas in Sri Lanka affected by sea-level rise

Certainly, the coastal areas including the golden beaches, small islands and deltas that belong to Sri Lanka, have impacts of these sea-rises immensely. Moving a bit deep with regards, this pearl shaped island of Sri Lanka has got a coastline of around 1,340 km. Moreover, an area of around 54, 828 ha of the total landmass of Sri Lanka have serious impacts of this issue. Thus, it is clear that the areas in Sri Lanka affected by sea-level rise are not as simple as we think. However, among the coastal areas in the land, districts of Puttalam, Jaffna and Mannar are the most affected.

Minimizing the impacts that sea-level rise have on Sri Lanka

Studies show that the sea level rising has reached an accelerated speed than in the past decades. Hence, significant reasons should be there for this unpredicted increase in this issue. Below are some of the mains among them.

  1. Impacts of global warming.
    1. The speedy shrinking of land ice-glaciers, ice caps, and ice sheets.
    2. Thermal expansion of ocean waters.
  2. Rapid changes in the amount of water on land.

Some consider that preventing sea-level rise is inevitable. Therefore, the majority do not pay attention to minimizing it. Still, a small action of ours can have even a small contribution towards avoiding the high effects of sea-level rising. Therefore, let us try to follow some of the steps below and be a part of this worthwhile cause.        

  1. Avoid clearing forests, and plant more trees.
  2. Take measures to protect the wetlands.
  3.  Minimize the use of greenhouse gases. 
  4.  Avoid unauthorized and non-standardized constructions along the coastline. 
  5. Save energy.

Tsunami in Sri Lanka

Certainly, ‘tsunami’ was an anonymous word for Sri Lankans decades back. Even while being a small island surrounded by blue waters, this beautiful country was blessed not to experience that kind of disaster for a period of thousands of years. However, Sri Lanka experienced the tragedy of a tsunami, on 26th December 2004, recording the largest destruction that a natural disaster ever caused. This was a result of an earthquake that took place off the west coast of the North Sumatra Islands.

However, the impact that these tsunami waves had on this country can never be underestimated. It rudely killed around 30, 060 innocent Sri Lankans who had no single idea about what was happening. Further, this count includes 210 tourists who were enjoying the beauty of the blue waves. Going beyond, this tsunami destroyed over 113,635 houses and 134 Schools, leaving thousands more as refugees. The Sri Lankan government conducted several projects to overcome the hardships faced, and the total cost of replacement was around $1.8 billion.

Even after several years of this incident, Sri Lanka is still experiencing the negative socio-economic impacts it created. Not only the victims, the whole country suffered as a whole over the losses it caused. Some of the losses it made are simply irreplaceable.

 Areas in Sri Lanka affected by tsunami

As per the reports, this 2004 tsunami, affected 4/5th of the Sri Lankan coastal areas. Besides the major damages were for the Northeastern, Northern, and Southern regions of Sri Lanka. Ampara district in the Eastern region reported 5000 deaths. Mullativu had approximately 1000 deaths recorded, and around 800 were dead in the Trincomalee district. Apart from that, the other highly affected districts were Jaffna, Batticaloa, Hambantota, Matara, and Galle.

Minimizing the impacts that tsunamis have on Sri Lanka

Us human beings have no way of controlling the tsunamis that happen due to underwater environmental changes. Still, we have the full potential of minimizing the damages a tsunami can cause. However, before considering that, it is better to have a quick glance over the causes for a tsunami.

  1. Landslides which happen along the coastline
  2. Earthquakes generated due to the unexpected movements among plate boundaries of the earth.
  3. Severe volcanic eruptions that directly affect the water level.
  4. Extraterrestrial collisions. 

Of course, we cannot control those factors. Yet, we can minimize the effect of a tsunami by following the steps below.  

  1. Avoid constructions within several hundred feet off the coastline.
  2. Prevent destroying the natural coastal protections such as coastal vegetation.
  3. Install tsunami warning systems in coastal areas. 
  4. Training people on how to take safety precautions during a Tsunami.

Negative Socio-economic impacts of Natural Disasters

By now, you have a clear idea about the natural disasters that Sri Lanka face. They certainly create tragedies going beyond limits, and the long-term impact they have on the country cannot be measured in terms. However, there is a series of negative socio-economic impacts that any of these hazards cause. You can find some of them below, in brief.

Loss of human lives

This is the most dangerous impact that any natural disaster can cause. Of course, lost money can be re-earned. Properties can be rebuilt. Yet, a lost life can never be replaced. Some natural hazards can be predicted. Thus, in such cases, by chance, if any human lives are lost, that is mainly due to carelessness and poor attention. But, if an unexpected tsunami occurs, or if an unexpected landslide or a flash flood comes, with very little warning time, the number of deaths it can cause is unpredictable. Hence, those instances will create heavy tragedies causing a high number of people to lose their lives.

Loss of livelihoods

As a result of natural disasters, normal lives tend to disfunction for a considerable time period. Accordingly, there are several groups of people whose livelihoods get severely affected.

Sri Lanka is a splendid island that is popular as a tourist destination with a number of things to do, and a lot of places to visit, with significant climatic changes among them. Still, natural disasters make it uncomfortable and unsafe. Accordingly, many tourists avoid visiting Sri Lanka during this time. This directly impacts the livelihoods of thousands of innocent Sri Lankans who solely depend on this industry.

Moreover, Sri Lanka is an agricultural country. Apart from tourism, this is also an industry where thousands of Sri Lankans make their living. Yet, most of their crops and harvest get damaged due to these incidents. In addition, following these disasters, they do not even get an opportunity to farm and continue with their agricultural productions for a certain period. Thus, people who rely on agriculture are also immensely affected in a time as such.

While those groups get affected highly, all the other people also face hard times in terms of their living. Specially, people who live on daily wages miss their earnings for days. Therefore, these times are certainly undesirable time periods for them as well.

Loss of property

The impact the disasters have on the property varies upon the type of natural disaster and its severity. As mentioned earlier, it is from the tsunami in 2004, that Sri Lanka experienced the highest loss of property. Besides, landslides and floods have a considerable impact on citizen’s property. Parallelly, severe natural disasters displace thousands in a country, and they will have to live in refugee camps for days, or maybe even weeks.

Negative impacts on economy

Along with these disasters, the main economic activities in a country tend to stand still. Infrastructure damages and communication interruptions become common. People face several hardships due to job losses. Besides, these conditions not only impact the affected areas but all the areas in the country as a whole. Hence, all these factors collectively bring adverse effects to the country’s economy.

Specifically, fields such as tourism and agriculture are the largest contributors to the per capita income of Sri Lanka. Thus, their downfalls would lead to a high negative economic impact. Similarly, loss of resource and agricultural products increase the costs of goods and services. And by chance, if several disasters follow in a line, investors tend to avoid investing in a country as such. These kinds of factors may weaken the per capita income, while delaying the country’s development. Therefore, it is clear that natural disasters have negative impacts towards the economy.

Psychological Impacts

Life losses of loved ones, property losses, and the dropping of livelihoods directly impact the well-being of the victims of natural disasters. By chance, if the victims are in refugee camps, things get worse. They would have high stress of overcoming several burdens, and these conditions may lead to long-lasting psychological problems as well. Hence, the psychological impact that natural disasters have on victims is desperate for sure.

Impact on Political stability

Natural disasters impact the political stability of a country in numerous ways. Whenever a country faces a disastrous situation, the government will face a challenging time period in managing them. By chance, if the public finds the government unresponsive, and inactive towards relief operations, undesirable situations may follow. Moreover, the government will have to focus on finding solutions to minimize the impact of natural disasters in prone areas. If not, the citizens may stand against the government. However, the economic and social challenges a country faces after a disaster are not just simple. Therefore, a natural disaster highly impacts political stability in the course.   

By now, you surely, have a good idea about the natural disasters in Sri Lanka. Of course, some of them might be unpredictable. Still, some of them can be predicted along with the climatic changes. Thus, it is important to find out about the weather and climate in Sri Lanka, whenever you are planning to backpack on this beautiful island. And always remember! Everything is at your fingertips. So, small research would help you decide the perfect time to visit Sri Lanka