Deforestation is an issue which affects many parts of the globe. The ramifications of deforestation are manifold, and regardless of where deforestation occurs those ramifications seem to follow a certain course. Sri Lanka is no different. Of the environmental issues which face Sri Lanka, deforestation is perhaps the most serious. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN), at the turn of the century Sri Lanka was “almost entirely covered by natural forest,” but since then “the closed canopy natural forest cover has dwindled rapidly from about 80% until around 24%” by the mid 1990s. As a result of deforestation, Sri Lanka is experiencing a reduction in biodiversity, problems with water sources, problems with irrigation methods, problems with soil fertility and soil erosion, problems with supply and demand of wood, scarcity of fuel wood, and increased contributions to greenhouse gas emissions (FAO). Clearly, the environmental threats to Sri Lanka as a result of deforestation are significant. However, what are the threats to the livelihood of the people of Sri Lanka? That is the question this paper will answer.
In order to answer the question of what threats deforestation poses to the livelihood of Sri Lanka, research was necessary. A variety of sources were consulted. Library databases were consulted in order to obtain peer-reviewed, scholarly resources. Governmental agency websites were also consulted in order to obtain relevant statistics and data. A great deal of information was accessed that clearly identified the threats to the livelihood of the Sri Lanka.
One such threat to Sri Lankan livelihood as a result of deforestation is an increase in flooding. Deforestation contributes to flooding by way of soil erosion (Ginige, Amaratunga, and Haigh). According to Ginige, Amaratuna, and Haigh, the wet zones of Sri Lanka expect periodic flooding; however, as a result of soil erosion, the “dry zone plains are not spared calamitous flooding” (297). These “calamitous” floods lead to loss of life, damage to agriculture through increased sedimentation in farm land and effects on soil depth and fertility, and contamination and other negative impacts on the quality of water sources by sediment and silting, including sources of drinking water (Hewawasam). The damage caused by flooding compromises the farmers’ ability to produce crops; not only does this financially impact the farmers it also means that food supplies are not replenished. The population of Sri Lanka is growing, and more and more food is needed to sustain the population (FAO). Therefore, if farmers can’t produce enough food to sustain the population, not only are the farmers going to suffer financially, the population will face hunger.
Flooding, in turn, can lead to landslides (Hewawasam). Landslides can lead to loss of life. They can also damage infrastructures like roads (Hewawasam) which can make it difficult for farmers to transport their crops and other agricultural goods to the market. Furthermore, landslides can render land unusable and make construction and land development difficult (Ginige, Amaratuna, and Haigh). Landslides can also affect agricultural land as well, leading to the loss of crops. Landslides can also be caused by soil erosion as a result of flooding. But landslides in turn contribute to more soil erosion, complicating and perpetuating soil issues, including soil fertility and soil depth (Hewawasam).
Deforestation also contributes to drought (Ginige, Amaratuna, and Haigh). Ginige, Amaratuna, and Haigh observe that “each year, somewhere in Sri Lanka people face droughts of short duration and local significance” as a result of deforestation (297). Drought leads to the death of crops and impacts on soil fertility. If a farmer loses his crops as a result of drought, this becomes a financial issue for him; it becomes a larger issue for the people who need the food. Loss of crops and water supplies – either as a result of too much water or too little – represent significant threats to life and livelihood.
If it has not been made clear thus far, agriculture is a significant aspect of Sri Lanka’s economy (FAO). Anything which poses a threat to agriculture – such as deforestation – poses a threat to the livelihood of Sri Lanka. It is clear from the resources read for this paper that not only is deforestation an immediate threat itself to the livelihood of Sri Lanka, it contributes indirectly through its effects on other factors, such as the role it plays in flooding and drought which affect water supplies. It was also remarkable though not surprising to realize how the impact of deforestation can be seen as a linear chain reaction and in a cyclical fashion. Deforestation starts a series of reactions which perpetuate one another, feeding one another. As long as the cycle is not interrupted by something – such as an effort to mitigate the effects of deforestation – it continues, feeding off itself. In conclusion, it is clear that deforestation needs to be addressed. While stopping it completely may not be an option, reducing it and addressing the damage done by deforestation are crucial. Otherwise, the cycle will continue and worsen. If Sri Lanka wishes to preserve its livelihood, it must address the problems of deforestation.
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. “Context in Which Forestry Is
Developing.” Asia-Pacific Forestry Sector Outlook Study: Country Report – Sri Lanka. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, n.d. Web. 24 July 2014.
- Ginige, K., Dilanthi Amaratunga, and Richard Haigh. “Developing Capacities for Disaster Risk
Reduction in the Built Environment: Capacity Analysis in Sri Lanka.” International Journal Of Strategic Property Management 14.4 (2010): 287-303. Business Source Complete. Web. 24 July 2014.
- Hewawasam, T. “Effect of Land Use in the Upper Mahaweli Catchment Area on Erosion,
Landslides and Siltation in Hydropower Reservoirs of Sri Lanka.” Journal Of The National Science Foundation Of Sri Lanka 38.1 (n.d.): 3-14. Science Citation Index. Web. 24 July 2014.