Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Resilience

From 2005 onwards, it is hard to identify a year where Sri Lanka’s weather pattern of two monsoons and two inter-monsoons have arrived at normal times, and with normal volumes. Droughts, flood and landslide incidents in quick succession, within a few months of each other, and alternating within the same districts, affect vulnerable communities and their capacity to cope. The compounded impacts of multiple disasters further impact the capacity of communities to prepare for, and to reduce risk to future events, including the impacts of climate change.

Sri Lanka faces a multitude of natural hazards including seasonal flooding and drought caused by uneven rainfalls, landslides set off by natural and human causes, and violent winds and tropical cyclones. Hazard risks are combined with numerous environmental issues including the post-conflict landscapes, land degradation and deforestation, scarcity of water, resource extraction and coastal erosion. 

In line with the Sri Lanka Disaster Management Plan 2018-2030 and the National Action Plan for Climate Change Adaptation, IOM continues to work with the national Government, local authorities, humanitarian partners and affected communities to better prepare for, and build resilience to disasters and climate change.

Disaster Preparedness

IOM’s Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) framework for Sri Lanka adopts a '3Cs' approach built around Community resilience, Capacity building and Coordination.

IOM strives to provide comprehensive services at the institutional level which influences the capacity of stakeholders to reduce disaster risk. At the community level, IOM promotes knowledge sharing, structural development, and direct beneficiary level assistance. IOM also considers disaster risk when designing and implementing other programming, to ensure that it builds resilience and recognizes local vulnerabilities.  This is especially significant when it is recognized that the impact of disasters can cause both short and long-term security, socio-economic and physical shifts which may influence migration-related decisions.

IOM will continue to promote the Migration Crisis Operational Framework (MCOF) as a tool to enhance the Government’s preparedness and response capacity to migration crises, and identify situations and conditions that, if left unmitigated, could lead to further crisis situations. 

Building upon a series of trainings conducted for government officials in disaster affected areas on Camp Coordination Camp Management (CCCM), for which IOM retains a global cluster lead, IOM will continue to sensitize actors and communities on key preparedness elements featured in CCCM training methodologies to enable quick response in the event of a disaster.

In 2017, IOM successfully rolled out for the first time its Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) in Sri Lanka as part of its emergency and recovery operations in flood and landslide affected regions and trained government officials and humanitarian partners on its use. The DTM is a system used to track and monitor displacement patterns and population mobility. It is designed to regularly and systematically capture, process and disseminate information to provide a better understanding of the movements and evolving needs of displaced populations, whether on site or en route, and to better plan and prepare for the next disaster. IOM continues to explore avenues for the replication and further application of the DTM in preparation for future natural disasters.

Disaster Response and Recovery

Year after year, IOM has taken up its role, within the humanitarian country team and as part of adhoc UN emergency response plans, in responding to recurring natural disasters in Sri Lanka, with a focus on the shelter and shelter-related Non-Food Item (NFI) sectors, in coordination with government authorities and humanitarian partners. 

IOM continues to stand ready to provide support the Government of Sri Lanka and affected communities. During the recovery phase, and as part of its approach to DRR, IOM also undertakes disaster-sensitive infrastructure interventions such as the construction and renovation of minor irrigation tanks, channel networks, bunds and roads, as well as the construction of paddy storage facilities, agro wells and salt water exclusion bunds with a view to minimize the impact of the damage caused by flooding and drought, and help build community resilience through the mitigation of identified risks.

Climate Change Adaptation

Just a month after ratifying the Paris Agreement in September 2016, Sri Lanka published its National Adaptation Plan (NAP) detailing adaptation actions in eight key sectors. This included agriculture, health, water, irrigation, coastal and marine, biodiversity, tourism, urban development and human settlements. Migration, however, has not been adequately linked to climate change in the NAP, which means that the lack of official efforts to track future impacts of climate change on mobility will leave the nexus between the two issues largely unknown, unless it is addressed through dialogue and action.

Sri Lanka’s lure of the nation’s garment industry in the capital city of Colombo and surrounding areas, as well as foreign employment in the Gulf States, is thought to be the main pull factor for internal and external migration patterns in the country. There is, however, a lack of data or analysis on whether climate change is in fact exerting a “push” factor on these developments, as emerged during the multi-stakeholder national consultation on the Global Compact on Migration that took place in Sri Lanka in August 2017.

There are clear gaps in the inclusion of migration-related data or analytical studies in the disaster management portfolio in Sri Lanka. Authorities record numbers of people temporarily displaced by rapid-onset events such as landslides, cyclones or floods. However, they do not currently record the extent to which these numbers translate into permanent migration. Nor do they record the impact on migration of slow-onset events such as drought or changes in seasonal rainfall or temperature patterns, which can lead to steady yield decline, and eventually drive people to give up on agriculture and move to urban areas.  This may then also have an impact on food security across the country.

Against this backdrop, IOM plans the following actions, in coordination with government and non-government actors:

  • Conduct assessments to identify needs and vulnerabilities of communities affected by climate change and environmental migrants – IOM tools such as the DTM can be rolled out in areas vulnerable to natural hazards and climate extremes.
  • Conduct in-depth research on the role of remittances in climate change adaptation, including their use as social safety nets to reduce forced migration due to climate change and gender differentiated impacts of environmental migration.
  • Identify existing relevant mechanisms at national and sub-national levels to mainstream environmental migration.
  • Convene and support regular information sharing meetings to discuss climate migration and feed into the development of a relevant policy instruments to address environmental migration.
  • Develop localized training material based on IOM’s existing Training Manual on Migration, Environment and Climate Change (MECC) with a view to better prepare policymakers on how to integrate MECC into existing policy frameworks and develop climate migration policy instruments.

Although there had been many government initiatives, policies and practices drafted by addressing climate change mitigation and adaptation, such national policies and frameworks had not been successful to adequately address the migration and environment nexus or address it to a minimal extent. This clearly attests the need for a review and improvement of current national policies and adaptation plans.


Understanding Migration, Environment Degradation and Climate Change (MECC)

While the National Climate Change Policy (NCCP) 2012 addresses objectives such as assessing vulnerabilities and health impact, disaster management, human resettlement and land use, it fails to address the importance of human mobility.  Therefore, there is a necessity at the national level to implement context-appropriate programmes to ensure well-managed and coordinated migration in relation to climate change.

As such, this project intends to mainstream human mobility considerations / migration into climate change & environmental strategies.

In 2018, IOM led the joint rapid assessment on Migration, Environment and Climate Change in Sri Lanka (MECC) with FAO and WFP and the study outcomes revealed that migration is thus far significant as a coping mechanism rather as a definite option to environment degradation and climate change.

Building upon the literature gathered from this early study, the current advanced study in the context of MECC is conducted with a community integration project activity with a special focus on women empowerment in climate resilient livelihood development. Hence, this project also aims to contribute to improved evidence-based strategies and programming to assist people moving in the context of disasters and climate change in Sri Lanka. Two key components will underpin the achievement of this objective.

The first key component proposed by this project is to develop a sustainable road map to carry forward the migration, environment degradation and climate change research findings in Sri Lanka to the next level of advocacy on related policy development. The audience for this activity will be Government officials of the key ministries related to the scope at policy level. Hence, the in-depth research into the linkages between climate change, environmental degradation and migration, is building on past rapid assessment findings. The planned in-depth research will be designed in consultation with relevant stakeholders, including the Government, UN agencies and research institutes. This activity will lead to the publication of in-depth research report that will enhance the understanding on the nexus between climate change and migration in Sri Lanka. IOM will ensure the research findings will reach relevant policy makers to influence inclusion of migration in development plans, climate change and disaster policy frameworks, and inform long term targeted investments in rural development.

The second key component aims at sharing knowledge of the in-depth research with all stakeholders, leading to a dialogue and a road map to take forward the findings of the research. This intervention aims at developing government capacity for the effective implementation of climate change adaptation actions including sustainable migration management measures and strengthened community resilience.

This project is line with IOM’s institutional objectives to prevent forced migration resulting from environmental factors and to support migrants and the government to respond to new challenges associated with climate change and human mobility.