Sri Lanka - Adequate Finance is a limitation to achieve SDG targets on water and sanitation

Hemantha Withanage, Executive Director, Centre for Environmental Justice/FANSA Sri Lanka

9 Jun, 2017 in Partner Perspective Categories

The SWA Country Process Dialogue was held on the 6th April 2017 at the Foundation Institute, Sri Lanka, with 40 participants representing the Ministry of City Planning and Water Supply, Ministry of Health, Water Supply and Drainage Board, and Civil society Organisations.  Sri Lankan delegation member from the Water Supply and Drainage Board to SWA High level panel took part in the discussion. SWA steering Committee member of Sri Lanka Mrs. Mangalika Lokuliyana, Additional Secretary to the Ministry of City Planning and water Supply also joined the discussion. The objectives of the workshop included, to generate a dialogue on the SWA efforts at national level, monitoring of previous HLM commitments and improve communications between CSOs, water and sanitation sector agencies and national SWA Steering Committee members. Sanitation and Water for All and End Water Poverty supported this discussion. 

This opportunity was the beginning of a dialogue on the current status of the water and sanitation and the challenges to achieve SDG sector targets by 2030. It was revealed that although the budget requirement for water and sanitation sectors is around 4% of the Sri Lanka national budget, it still remains below 2%. According to the sources the sector require Rs. 80 billion per year for the planned projects.  However, the financial gap for the water and sanitation infrastructure is over Rs. 35 billion annually. Sector agencies think that this money should be raised through grants, Public Private Partnership and domestic banks instead of loans since Sri Lanka has less pay back capacity.

Sri Lanka achieved its MGD targets water (85%) and sanitation 90% by 2015. Now Sri Lanka has the goal to access to adequate sanitation and safe water for 100% of the population by 2025.  However several concerns and challenges were found including lack of baseline data, lack of sustainable approach in line with Sustainable Development Goals and lack of finance.


Water Supply Coverage December 2016

Less than half of the population (47.7%) receives pipe borne SRI LANKA 1water while 36.4% depend on dug wells.  12.2% people still do not have access to drinking water. Similarly only 2.2 % population is connected to Pipe sewerage. 87% population use toilets with septic tanks. 6.7% of the population still use toilets with direct pits and 2.4 % use shared toilets. About 1.7% people i.e. 400,000 people in Sri Lanka are still practicing open defecation. It was found that different data are used by the water sector and health sector agencies; because there is no agreed baseline data. The last census data produced in 2012 doesn’t picture correctly the current situation.

It was revealed that the current categorization of sanitation based on the MDG reporting system is not suitable for reporting under the SDGs. For e.g. Protected dug wells are just based on the assumption that people have a well in the own garden. But it is not sure whether the toilets with septic tanks or other polluting bodies contaminate the home garden water sources.  

Both quality and availability are equally important aspects in water and sanitation sectors. However, most projects held in Sri Lanka in the past have targeted the water and sanitation but not much on hygiene. Therefore, health sector data shows that diarrhea incidents have not much reduced although the mortality and morbidity has reduced due to improved health in the country. Health officials argued that this is related to the lack of attitude change and awareness for best hygiene practices.

Nature provides best drinking water with no cost. It is not advisable to convert all well water users to pipe borne water since untreated natural water available in Sri Lanka is drinkable unless pollute by the humans. Therefore, it is important to protect the water catchments, wetlands and other water sources under the SDG targets which can easily avoid financing for water infrastructure especially in the wet zone rural areas. This has not being considered much in the water sector.

It was found that the Water Board new corporate plan has reduced CBO managed water supply to 6% which was 10% before. CBO involvement in water supply should remain since infrastructure cost for water supply is becoming expensive and CBOs have the capacity to continue to supply water mostly in the rural areas. CSOs role is important to ensure SDG target 6.1 and 6.2 under SDG agenda.

SRI LANKAWater and sanitation is a human right although they are not considered same way in Sri Lanka. Marginalized groups such as people with disabilities, plantation sector, school girls, sanitary workers and elders face severe difficulties due to lack of sanitation facilities.   It is important to advocate for “Leave No one behind” approach in both water and sanitation sectors. Public toilets are also not adequate and no proper maintenance, which need better attention achieving sanitation targets. Meantime Pipe sewerage should be increased and septic tanks should be improved and bring the national standards.

It was highlighted that water governance is a neglected area in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is one of the nations with access to diverse water sources and adequate rainfall. However, water availability is past diminishing due to the mismanagement. Water safety plans should be promoted for rivers, dug wells and other sources considering the water scarcity, climate change, water pollution land sub division, sea level rise and salinization, increasing draw of ground water and increased cost of water etc.

The national CSOs involved in these discussions, after the SWA high level meetings will follow up with the government to make sure that concrete solutions are provided to answer the bottlenecks for reaching the SDGS that were identified in the discussions.