Climate change is expected to increase the exposure of Sri Lanka’s urban areas to climate risks (GoSL 2016b). A major threat in an increasing trend of more frequent extreme precipitation events. An analysis by the WHO and UNFCCC, projects the number of days with 20mm precipitation or more to increase by around 10 days on average between 1990 and 2010 under a high emission scenario. In this context, there is a direct, empirically observed relationship between shifting patterns of rainfall due to climate change and landslide risk in Sri Lanka: a study plotting temporal changes in rainfall intensities against landslide incidence found a strong correlation between landslide frequency and increased rainfall intensity in the country. The GoSL’s National Adaptation Plan (NAP 2016-2025) predicts that changes in rainfall patterns will also increase flood risk in cities and identifies secondary effects including outbreaks of vector borne disease.
In addition rising temperatures may expose urban residents to direct physical stress, drought intensification and associated public health risks. The IPCC’s 5th assessment projected rising average temperatures and periods of temperature extremes affecting the South Asian region, highlighting the impact on food security, safe water availability, and illness resulting from heat, water-contamination and vector borne diseases as areas of concern. Studies focusing on Sri Lanka have demonstrated an increasing temperature trend over the last century, further indicating that increased temperatures could be an important feature of future climate change on the island.
Sri Lanka’s cities are also at risk from the global trend of climate-related sea level rise, which poses major threats to cities throughout Asia. The IPCC’s 5th assessment projects sea level rises of between 28 to 98 centimetres by 2100, presenting a significant risk to low-lying coastal urban areas.
The impacts of sea level rise on Sri Lanka’s cities will be discussed in relation to the distribution of urban assets in the following discussion on Why Sri Lanka’s Cities are Vulnerable to Climate Change?
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