Sri Lanka ranked second on the 2017 Global Climate Risk Index for countries most affected by the climate crisis.350 The most frequent natural hazards impacting the country include floods, droughts, and cyclones.351 Mountains located in the south-central region of the country divide the island into distinctive regions—the central highlands, the plains, and the coast—and influence the distribution of rainfall. Thus, while parts of the island nation must cope with higher susceptibility to droughts, other regions that experience monsoons are vulnerable to increased flooding.352
Sri Lanka locally produces 85 percent of its food, and so either type of climate impact carries with it the potential to devastate the country’s food and agricultural sector.353 Such threats are already clear. For example, from 2016 to 2017, a severe drought—the worst drought in 40 years— devastated 45 percent of the paddy crop, the country’s main staple food, and caused 900,000 people to be food insecure.354 Likewise, in 2018, 100,000 people were displaced due to disasters, and of those, 75,000 were displaced by severe flooding triggered by monsoon weather conditions355 and landslides.356 A year prior in 2017, 500,000 people were displaced by flooding and 200 people were killed by landslides.357
Projected climate changes that will have significant impacts for Sri Lanka include increased temperature,358 water and food insecurity, changes in rainfall patterns, increased severity and frequency of extreme weather events, and sea-level rise.359 These effects will force people to migrate from inland and coastal regions alike in search of work and safe living conditions.360 For example, rising sea levels will continue to have a negative impact on major industries such as fishing and tourism.361
Altogether, changes in average weather resulting from the climate crisis are predicted to reduce income in Sri Lanka by 10 percent by 2050,362 and by the middle of the century, an estimated 19 million people in Sri Lanka will be living in moderate to severe climate hotspots.363 What’s more, vector-borne diseases, such as dengue fever, as well as rodent and waterborne diseases, are projected to have increased health risks connected to the climate crisis and its varying impacts.364
The climate crisis often interacts with other dynamics internal to a region or nation. In May 2009, after two and a half decades of violent conflict between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamil populations, the Sri Lankan Civil War came to an end.365 The civil war, which began in 1983, was fueled by postcolonial policies established during Sri Lanka’s colonial era that limited social and economic rights to the country’s minority Tamil citizenry.366 A decade after the civil war, the country is grappling with the deep traumas brought forth by prolonged violence, and many of the systemic issues that led to the civil war remain unresolved.367
As part of the country’s efforts to move forward from the devastation of its past, the Sri Lankan government has committed to building a “sustainable and resilient society”368 by working toward achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals and mitigating the effects of the climate crisis.369 The Sri Lankan government has identified the climate crisis as “a major threat looming over the economic and social development of the country,” with the country becoming increasingly vulnerable to more intense and extreme climate events.370
Moving toward their sustainability goals, the Sri Lankan government has submitted their National Adaptation Plan for Climate Change Impacts in 2016,371 ratified and signed the Paris Agreement, and established strategies for the country’s Nationally Determined Contributions.372 In 2018, Sri Lanka also submitted a Voluntary National Review on the Status of Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals.373 Notably, Sri Lanka is heavily engaged in mangrove conservation efforts and will become the first nation in history to replant and preserve all of its mangrove forests in an effort to protect the ecosystem.374 The mangrove restoration project stems from lessons learned from the tsunami in 2004, for it became especially clear that mangroves are able to absorb the height and intensity of big waves, as well as sequester and store carbon. Thus, such efforts serve as a preventative measure to protect coastlines, human life, and resources from the impact of future tsunamis.375
In addition to the Sri Lankan government’s efforts to mitigate climate crisis impacts, Sri Lanka will need external support from the international community, including financial and technical assistance, in order to successfully implement the actions as outlined in the country’s national adaptation plan.376
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