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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 3 (2014 Deadline)

Developing monitoring tools for managing drought risk and addressing the riddle of increased drought tendency amidst the wetter climate change projections for Sri Lanka and the Maldives

PI:  Lareef Zubair (, Foundation for Environment, Climate and Technology, with Co-PI Mizna Mohamed, Maldives National University
U.S. Partner: Bradfield Lyon, International Research Institute for Climate and Society, Lamont-Doherty Earth Institute at Columbia University
Project Dates: September 2014 to October 2017

Project Website:
3-152 Fect Project Review
Dr. Zahid of Maldives Meteorological Services (standing 4th from left) and Dr. Yahiya (far right) with some of the FECT staff at the project review meeting.
Project Overview

Climate change projections robustly project wetter conditions for most of South Asia. However, in recent decades, an increasing tendency to drought has been observed in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, as well as in East Africa. The credibility of these climate projections is thus in question. To address this question, the regional climate mechanisms, their decadal change, and the drivers of decadal change such as sea surface temperatures must be characterized and their representation in global climate models must be evaluated. Sri Lanka is a good locale for such work because it is data-rich and spatially heterogeneous. The scientific goals of the research project led by the research team in Sri Lanka and the Maldives are: (1) to better characterize drought historically and develop a skillful operational drought monitoring system; (2) to provide assessment of climate change over Sri Lanka and Maldives with characterization of uncertainty and its impacts on future droughts; and (3) to generate assessments—including confidence levels—of water scarcity and drought risk. The overall goal of this multilateral research project is to develop operational tools for drought monitoring and to provide the best assessment of climate change.

The development-related objectives of the project are to undertake detailed water scarcity assessments in two locales in the Mahaweli river basin in Sri Lanka and in two islands of the Maldives; disseminate the results (via websites, advisories, policy briefs, and scientific publications); and build capacity and support tertiary education. In terms of the anticipated outcomes, the project team has been providing tools for online access to climate information and a weekly/monthly climate advisory. These tools and advisory will incorporate drought assessments and will be reviewed by water managers and other resource and disaster managers. An assessment of regional climate change and water scarcity projections will be provided to selected policy makers. Demonstrations of the use of these assessments will be conducted in selected locales, which will help build capacity for water resources, climate science, and climate services. The research project builds on USAID's goal to better manage the Mahaweli River Basin in Sri Lanka and will contribute to the ongoing USAID goal to better manage water under climate change in the Maldives.

Final Summary of Project Activities

Making use of their capabilities developed during their PEER project, the team provides an online weekly climate advisory for Sri Lanka used to inform national water resource allocations through a consultative process involving the host institute, the Mahaweli Authority of Sri Lanka, the Ceylon Electricity Board, the Irrigation Department, and the National Water Supply Board. The PEER grant provided the resources to sustain, improve and automate the existing advisory. In the Maldives, in collaboration with the Maldives Meteorological Service, their monthly climate report is widely disseminated. The researchers are now consulted by water resources engineers, energy managers, agricultural managers and the media on seasonal predictions, including an international story on drought in Sri Lanka.

Throughout the project, the team sought historical meteorological data required for analysis in the Maldives and Sri Lanka, set up automatic web-scraping systems to archive climate data going forward, and assessed satellite rainfall estimates. In collaboration with the Maldives Meteorological Services, the researchers set up soil moisture probes and field transmitters. In both countries, the team installed automatic weather stations (AWS). The researchers implemented protocols to map rainfall deficits and drought indices in both countries and set up a database and analysis system for climate analysis mirroring a similar system developed at the IRI Data Library.

Researchers and graduate students did field research and assessed water scarcity and vulnerability to drought and worked to develop new projections. Both ongoing data collection and analysis were distributed through a variety of channels, including social media, advisory flyers, academic presentations and workshops at both the university and middle school level. About 20 graduate students were involved in the project and received advanced training as a result.

The work done through the PEER grant helped the PIs win an additional grant from Dilmah Conservation to guide research on the impacts of climate change on tea in Sri Lanka.


Zubair, L., Yahiya, Z., Agalawatte, P. and Lokuhetti, R. 2016. The El Nino event of 2015/16 in Sri Lanka: Predictions, Preparedness, Communication and Impacts. In Climate Change Secretariat (Ed.), Neelaharitha-The Climate Change Magazine of Sri Lanka, pp.40-46. Sri Lanka: Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment.

Agalawatte, P., Zubair, L., Zahid, Viswanathan, J., Yahiya, Z. & Bell, M. 2016. The Monthly Climate Advisory for Maldives – a resource for marine scientists. Maldives Marine Science Symposium, October 27, 2016, at the Maldives National University, Male’, Maldives.

Agalawatte, P., Zubair, L. and Yahiya, Z. 2016. State of the art climate change assessments for Sri Lanka from CMIP5. In Climate Change Secretariat (Ed.), Neelaharitha-The Climate Change Magazine of Sri Lanka, pp.40-46. Sri Lanka: Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment.

Agalawatte, P., Yahiya, Z., Viswanathan, J., Zubair, L. and Bell, M. 2016. Providing climate services for water management in Sri Lanka. In Climate Change Secretariat (Ed.), Neelaharitha-The Climate Change Magazine of Sri Lanka, 40-46. Sri Lanka: Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment.

Nijamdeen, A., Zubair, L., Dharmadasa, M., Najimuddin, N., P. and Malge, C. 2017. Seasonal Impact of Climate on Tea Production in Sri Lanka. International Roundtable on the Impact of Extreme Natural Events: Science and Technology for mitigation IRENE 2017, pp 25. Sri Lanka: South Eastern University.

Lokuhetti, R., Zubair, L., Visvanathan, J., M., Nijamdeen, A. 2017. Drought Monitoring for Sri Lanka: Spatial Extent and Temporal Evolution during the 2016-17 Drought. International Roundtable on the Impact of Extreme Natural Events: Science and Technology for mitigation IRENE 2017, pp.29. Sri Lanka: South Eastern University.

Zubair, L., and Wickramagamage, P. 2017. Proceedings of the Pinga Oya Symposium, University of Peradeniya and Foundation for Environment, Climate and Technology, Kandy, Sri Lanka.

Zubair, L. Shazla, M. Mizna, M. 2017. Proceedings of the Climate and Water security in Maldives workshop, Maldives National University, Maldives and Foundation for Environment, Climate and Technology, Kandy, Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka Drought Monitoring Data

Maldives Drought Monitoring Data

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