© UNDP Sri Lanka

The UN provided enhanced support to build resilience to climate change and natural disasters and improve capacities to better prepare for and adapt to climate change and natural hazards. 

In this regard, UNICEF, UNDP, and WFP assisted on disaster risk reduction (DRR), drinking water safety plans, sanitation, hygiene, food security, and livelihoods in different communities. Work was focused on building climate resilience for smallholder farmers and vulnerable groups such as children, pregnant or nursing women, and those affected by the MV X-Press Pearl accident. Some 35,000 beneficiaries were reached through cash transfers, integration into local planning, water and irrigation systems, agriculture and aquaculture supplies, and diversifying livelihoods. UNICEF further supported the health ministry to develop training materials on health care waste management for medical staff, while UNDP conducted a rapid assessment and provided recommendations on health care waste management to be implemented through a national action plan.

UN support further contributed to enhancing institutional capacities for disaster risk management, e.g., training over 370 government officials on DRR focused on children and developing nationwide school safety guidelines. Agencies, including UNFPA, WFP, UNDP, and FAO assisted in integrating gender and elderly needs in preparedness plans; in finalising national emergency plan operations; registering low-income beneficiaries in an online platform to rationalise interventions; providing cash assistance to vulnerable Samurdhi households as part of shock-responsive social protection; and conducting wide-ranging flood modeling and mapping to assess the implications of climate change on agriculture supply chains and human security. Further, trilingual training on the management of safety centres during COVID-19 was conducted, benefitting over 260 participants, while 2,000 camp management guideline materials were distributed among service providers.

To promote climate-resilient water supply systems, UN agencies worked on access to and management of drinking water, training 390 government officials on Rural Water Safety Plans and assessing household water quality. A manual and training guide for public water supply schemes were also developed. UNDP for its part supported over 10,400 people in 17 women-led water safety and security initiatives, and in developing guidelines for climate change adaptation for irrigation specialists. WHO assisted in training 150 personnel and a host of auditors from the national water and engineering authorities on water safety.

In the area of natural resource management, the UN led by UNDP provided technical assistance on the revision of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), including overall coordination and policy analysis in sectors such as domestic water supply and drinking water.

To promote sustainable land use management and climate-resilient agriculture, UNDP supported the development of the National Weather Portal and its mobile app, which benefitted almost 460,000 farmers through weather and agro-met advisories. WFP piloted the Last Mile Climate Services approach to strengthen government’s capacity to provide more reliable, localised, and simplified climate advisories. Further, the South-South Triangular Cooperation initiative exchanged information to help smallholder farmers reduce post-harvest losses.

On the promotion of sustainable energy and waste management, the UN and its partners helped develop a feasibility study for the Ceylon Electricity Board to find suitable sites for small scale biomass power plants. Comprehensive health care waste management plans by UNDP will directly impact over 2,000 healthcare workers (62 per cent of them women). WHO also supported the implementation of a pilot project to recycle used agrochemical containers.

With the aim of making a business case for investments in sustainability, ITC presented a training package for small and medium enterprises on greening ICT, e-waste management, and reducing the carbon footprint. It also supported the formulation of Sri Lanka’s new Industrial Policy, with a particular focus on green growth and renewable energy. Further, ILO is assisting the government in adopting a strategy for a just transition towards a greener economy.

A UNOPS project on solid waste management was implemented in four local authority areas with over 3,000 female community members, while technical support, six waste collection vehicles, and 10 waste collection trailers were provided to local partners. Through a joint UN Women-UNOPS Project, 45 village development plans were introduced by local officials and community members to resolve key needs around solid waste management, with emphasis on women’s environmental leadership and participation. Action grants were provided to implement their proposals in areas such as compost production and polythene recycling. These actions reduced waste, encouraged local innovation and sustainable enterprise, and strengthened village-level governance mechanisms (Praja Mandalas), while increasing the role of women.

Understanding that there are growing linkages between climate and threats to peace and development UN Sri Lanka will explore developing a climate security assessment in the next year.

Green Development Dialogues

The Colombo Development Dialogues were held with a series of policy discussions focusing on ‘Green Development,’ organized by the Ministry of Environment and UNDP with other co-convening partners including UNICEF, UNEP, ITC, UNIDO, UNESCO, and UN Habitat. Aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals and national and regional policy priorities, the series helped frame narratives on innovative policy making, sustainable financing, and multi-stakeholder collaboration to help articulate policy underpinnings towards a National Framework for Green Development in Sri Lanka. Going beyond the overarching themes and towards localised policy prescriptions, further policy engagements with partners at a more specialised level will follow these sessions.

Responding to Environmental Disasters

On 20 May 2021, chemical fume emissions erupted on board the MV X-Press Pearl container ship as it anchored around nine nautical miles (17 kilometres) northwest of Colombo, in Sri Lanka’s national waters. The vessel was carrying 348 tonnes of fuel, nitric acid, epoxy resins, ethanol, and heavy metals. Despite rescue efforts, the ship eventuality sank after much of the cargo caught fire for several days. The incident resulted in a significant impact on the country’s sensitive coastal environment, local communities, and the economy. To facilitate an efficient response to the disaster, the UN provided substantial coordination support to key government authorities including the Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) and the foreign ministry’s Department of Oceans Affairs. In close coordination with these authorities, the Office of the Resident Coordinator facilitated the deployment of a joint environmental mission from the UN’s Environment Programme (UNEP) and Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Together, they helped provide technical advice to the Government of Sri Lanka on the key challenges faced in oil spill contingency planning, cleanup operations, and the assessment of environmental impacts. The mission produced a report with key findings and recommendations covering both short-term response measures and longer-term recovery, which was submitted to the government. As a result of these findings, robust law enforcement and effective prevention methods—both national and international—are in process to hold the perpetrators to account and prevent future environmental disasters.