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SRI LANKA Post-Tsunami Consolidated Assessment
22 April 2005


Tsunami Impact Assessment
The way forward


Sri Lanka was devastated by the tsunami along 1200km (68%) of its 1770km costal belt. Twelve of the fourteen coastal districts, were affected, only in the North-Western region the damage was minimal. The island has never experienced a devastation of this magnitude, whether natural or man-made, in its recorded history. The disaster, as at 1 February 2005, has claimed over 30,000 lives and affected more than 212,000 families in the coastal belt. The furthest distance to which the marauding seawater came overland was around 2-3 kilometers from the coast; resulting in complete damage to most of the seawater sensitive crops. After fisheries, the agricultural sector is the sector hardest hit by the disaster. This refers not only to farm fields, but also to the thousands of small homegardens that farmers, villagers and fishermen use to grow vegetables and fruit trees. These homegardens supply a significant part of the household's nutritional needs. As they were located in the vilages close to the sea, these homegardens were largely destroyed and the crops lost.

Map of the region
In the first week of January a group of FAO and the Ministry of Agriculture Livestock Land and Irrigation (MALLI) jointly visited the affected areas and made preliminary assessments of the damage to both fisheries and agriculture. This and other missions have provided a consolidated assessment of the damages and the resilience of the agricultural system. An in-depth mission recently looked in-depth to salinity issues resulting from the tsunami.


Agricultural production in the country is divided into two production zones: the Yala season (mostly in the south and east) with rainfall between March and August, and the Maha season (all over the country) with rainfall between September and January. Except for Galle and Matara, all districts are situated in the dry zone of the lowlands. Hambantota is the driest district with a 75% expectancy annual rainfall of 750 mm followed by Jaffna and Mulaitivu with 800 mm. Ampara, Batticaloa and Trincomalee have a 75% expectancy annual rainfall of between 900 and 1300 mm. Average annual evapotranspiration in Batticaloa is around 1400 mm. Annual rainfall is 1790 mm giving a rainfall surplus of 400 mm per year. The rainfall surplus occurs over a period of 5 months, from October to February during which the total surplus is nearly 1000 mm. The drier districts have an annual rainfall deficit. Data for Jaffna show that the annual deficit is 125 mm and that a rainfall surplus of approximately 600 mm occurs over a period of 3 months.

Assessing the damages in the field
Meteorological data from Trincomalee give an annual rainfall deficit of 145 mm, while Galle District has an annual rainfall surplus of approximately 1700 mm per year.

Mullaitivu affected and without fresh water resources

Except for limited areas of paddy crops under irrigation in Ampara, Hambantota and Mullaitivu districts and expensive cash crops like chili, onion, capsicum, etc. under well or lift irrigation in Trincomalee, Mullaitivu and Jaffna districts, the rest of the Tsunami affected coastal areas are not suitable for crops either due to dryness or lack of land due to over-population in the wet zone. Though the economic losses from this type of agriculture cannot be estimated accurately it is definitely substantial and has a justifiable claim for assistance for immediate restoration. Coconut and to a lesser extent cashew are the only cash crop widely produced in semi-arid areas along the coastal belts. Where agriculture exists, farm holdings vary in size from 0.2 to 0.4 hectares in wetter western and southern areas to 0.8 to 1.2 hectares in drier northern and eastern areas. Home gardens are a very important source of nutrients for the diets of farming and fishing families. Typically, these cover about half an acre and produce a wide range of vegetables and fruit, including pulse crops, leafy and other vegetables and fruits like mango, banana, pomegranate, as well as medicinal plants.
A distinction in agricultural practices should be made between paddy cultivation and horticulture, where paddy areas can be subdivided into irrigated and rainfed paddy cultivation. Vegetables and fruits are grown mainly on Regosols close to the beach. These are very deep structureless, excessively drained sandy soils (>3m), with only a thin layer of fertile top soil developed due to intensive cultivation. Vegetables are also grown on other well-drained soils further inland. Vegetables are generally planted after the peak of the wet seasons (Yala and Maha). Irrigation is used in the dry periods following the monsoon. Irrigated paddy normally occupies the alluvial soils along the coast and other soils characterized by poorly drained fine-textured, clayey soils. Surface drainage is normally good with outlets to rivers or small lagoons formed where rivers and streams flow into the ocean. In the larger irrigation systems rice is cultivated both in the Yala and Maha seasons. Rainfed paddy and tank-irrigated paddy in the dry-zone is restricted to the Maha season. Rainfed paddy is found in several places along the coast and is situated on a variety of soils; all characterized by poor drainage and or high groundwater tables.

Tsunami Impact Assessment
Farmer inspecting damage and debris on his land

Many communities have voluntarily hosted tsunami survivors in tents, temporary settlements or their own houses. Many of these communities have potentially productive land that is currently under-developed. As one community leader commented, internally displaced persons will provide casual labor in the short-term and will increase the community's economic wealth if they reside permanently. Voluntary relocation of internally displaced persons (IDP), with the consent of host communities, is an alternative that requires careful consideration. Social fragmentation and trauma at the family and community level is enormous and will remain a major problem for many years. Many of the survivors are male heads of families and, at the time of the tsunami, were either fishing or working on their land away from their villages and survived by riding the surge in the open sea or by climbing trees.
The number of farming families affected by the Tsunami totals 9,048 and the total extent of damage to agricultural land is slightly over 4,200 hectares. The damage to agriculture in Tsunami affected areas could be broadly categorized into crops, agricultural lands, irrigation structures, drinking and irrigation water, livestock, agriculture services, agricultural enterprises and infrastructure. As the tsunami hit in the Maha (wet) season, paddy was the hardest hit mono-crop, next to fruits and vegetables grown in homegardens. The total number of home garden units affected is estimated to 27,710 units.

District Number of farm families Extent of damage (ha.)  
Paddy Vegetables Other field crops Fruits Others Total (ha.)
Kaluthara 88 0.1 0.2 0 4.4 0.1 4.8
Galle 1041 160.0 32.6 0.2 35.4 39.1 267.1
Matara 337 113.6 7.7 32.6 1.2 0.0 122.5
Hambantota 696 261.2 23.9 7.7 22.6 4.9 314.7
Ampara 2614 1737.2 283.0 23.9 0 0 2020.2
Batticaloa 2355 62.7 116.5 283.0 59.7 89.1 369.1
Trincomalee 803 84.0 8.7 116.5 12.8 0 222.4
Mulaitivu 556 706.1 10.0 8.7 0 0 755.1
Jaffna 558 92.3 0 47.8 0.6 0.4 141.2
 All areas 9048 3541 483 247 137 134 4217

Initially, salinity was expected to be a major problem, as the country has experience with irrigation-induced salinity problems. However, salinity levels in especially the light textured soils in the wetter areas of the Dry Zone reduced drastically after heavy rains (170 to over 250mm) and flooding soon after the Tsunami. Salinity levels (ECe) measured in the field three months after the tsunami range from 1-5 dS/m. Normal soil salinity levels range between 0.25 and 1 dS/m. In some low lying, less well drained areas salinity remains higher. Drier districts such as Mulaitivu, Jaffna and Hambantota have received little or no rainfall. Soil salinity levels remain high i.e. ECe values in Mulaitivu and Jaffna are still between 6 - 25 dS/m. Groundwater (which is usually at a depth of 1.5-2m) follows the same trend as soil salinity. The salinity of the groundwater also changes with the location, land elevation above sea level, and permeability of the soil/rock formation below groundwater level. It is expected that with the monsoon rains salts will be flushed out naturally. With regard to the ability to reclaim these lands the following estimation was made by a FAO-Salinity expert:

To see the table click here

As salinity poses relatively minor problems to land rehabilitation, other rehabilitation issues become more important. Trash and debris, mostly uprooted and broken shrubs/trees and parts of damaged structures, are scattered in the agricultural lands making cultivation dependent on their removal. In some areas gullies were formed and scouring of soils has taken place due to the rush of water, which needs immediate reclamation and conservation for crop production. Many of the paddy bunds have been washed away.
Sedimentation is not assessed as a major problem, since the depth of deposit is small, probably between 1 and 5 cm and can be mixed with the top-soil without risk of fertility loss. Saline seawater contaminated agro-wells and domestic water supply systems. Salinity levels in the wells remain high, also where fields have been leached by precipitation. Irrigation and drainage canals within 200m of the coastline were severely damaged. To some extent infrastructure further upstream was damaged by the tsunami and subsequent floods. It is estimated that this extends to 1,500km of canals and it is important that these structures be urgently reinstated so that farmers can carry out soil leaching, where precipitation fails. In general, most affected lands in Sri Lanka fall in Class A and the rest in Class B of the FAO-land rehabilitation classification.
With irrigation farmers could return to normal quite soon
In the affected areas, livestock is not of high economic value, but has an important role in food security at household level. Estimated livestock losses are about 7,580 cattle, 49,000 buffalo, 14,170 goats, 120 pigs and 148,500 poultry. Cattle, goats and poultry were especially affected and a relatively higher proportion of buffalo appears to have survived. The tsunami has had a much wider impact on the farming system, as many landless workers (often fishermen) have died in the floods. Furthermore, farmers lost their assets (cash, building, seeds, tools, etc) and agricultural support systems have suffered capacity losses. There has been significant damage to Agrarian Service Centers and to the facilities of private sector providers in the affected areas. Repair and replacement are urgently needed in order for extension services to be able to effectively help the recovery of farming communities. The equipment of the veterinary and livestock improvement services will need to be re-established to ensure full support for livestock farmers. Due to the total damage near the coast and the obliteration of landmarks and delineations, land rights are difficult to assess and are contested.

Post-tsunami recovery

Immediately after the tsunami struck the Government of Sri Lanka declared a state of emergency and mobilized rescue services and humanitarian assistance. These actions were complemented by support programs by NGOs from Sri Lanka and overseas. In addition, bilateral and international agencies met with government officials to agree on emergency and development assistance. As part of this effort, FAO initiated emergency distribution of equipments: mainly irrigation pumps to evacuate sea water from the farm land in water-logged or poorly drained areas, sprayer equipment, EC/pH meters to monitor the extent and severity of soil salinity as well as water quality in wells, and hand tools to help farmers cleaning their fields, reconstructing bunds and desilting drainage. In regions where irrigation or high precipitation watered the fields farmers were quickly back into business. Young paddy survived the waves in many places. The general salinity assessment mentioned earlier concluded that 40% of the fields are already suitable for cultivation during Yala and 90% during the coming Maha-season. Only rainfed paddy fields will likely need more time to recover.

The way forward

The strategy for rehabilitation and development that is jointly developed by MALLI and FAO is intended to not only restore the pre-tsunami situation, but to facilitate further development in the medium- and long term. All development plans will be based on a set of guiding principles: •  Recovery should be focused on all tsunami-affected areas and decided according to need;

•  All developments should aim to alleviate poverty and reduce vulnerability;
•  All activities should be based on the principle of subsidiarity;
•  All decisions should be community-led and have a coordinated approach;
•  All developments should emphasize a participatory approach and be gender sensitive;
•  Broad based communications and transparency should be emphasized;
•  Individual interventions should reflect environmental priorities.
Salinity Management Training in Batticaloa

The recovery strategy aims first to assist farming communities to re-establish their farming activities and restart economic activity so as to rebuild their assets. Activities are prioritized into short and medium term according to the needs. Functioning irrigation and drainage systems will be critical for the effective restoration and improvement of agriculture lands. Normal paddy irrigation will also contribute to field recovery. The Yala season commences in April and it is important to ensure that the maximum area possible will be cultivated during this season. This will require a concerted effort to supply inputs, assets and organize rehabilitation works as well as continuous monitoring. Support services will be strengthened to help vitalizing a healthy farming community. Rehabilitation needs an integrated approach, accommodating local projects and thereby not fearing creative solutions as supplying potted plants to people in camps to revive the homegarden-culture. On the short-term FAO will also proceed to distribute training modules on salinity management and facilitate the continued monitoring, analysis and management of salinity and other land reclamation issues. This builds on the trainings already provided by earlier missions.


Main sources for this brief were reports of the initial FAO-assessment and the report of salinity expert Neeltje Kielen.

 contact: tsunami@fao.org © FAO, 2005