Sri Lanka has high national coverage for access to improved water supply and sanitation, at 84 and 86 per cent respectively. However, these figures mask considerable disparities and a need for customized solutions in underserved geographic locations, including remote rural areas, the plantation sector, and pockets in the north and the east of the country.
The percentage of schools with improved water sources ranges between 80-85 percentage points. And while national data exists, it does not adequately take into account the continuous availability of water, or the quality of the water sources, even when schools or communities report access.
Indicators on end-use behavior and practices (washing hands with soap, environmental safety in disposing of human excreta, menstrual hygiene) is also limited, resulting in critical gaps in interventions.
Although policies are in place to promote access and quality, enforcement requires strengthening. Cost recovery remains an issue, as does the long-term maintenance of facilities, especially for community-based systems. In schools, authorities’ lack the capacity to undertake “soft” components such as hygiene promotion.
Poor outcomes in the education and health sectors, particularly with regard to malnutrition, are closely linked with lack of access to good-quality water and sanitation. The spread of water-borne diseases due to bacteriological contamination or long-term exposure to suspected chemical contamination is an increasing concern in Sri Lanka. It has been reported that some areas where populations are still being resettled have up to 40 per cent of households who practice open defecation, contributing to heavy water pollution and water borne diseases.
In addition, the prevalence of disasters such as floods and droughts has increased sharply since 2010, placing more of a burden on institutions responsible for WASH service provision. Out of the 3.4 million people affected by natural disasters since 2005 in Sri Lanka, more than 2.6 million were affected between 2011 and 2013. Flooding in December 2012 alone contaminated more than 20,000 wells. Humanitarian partners are called to respond to repeated small emergencies with existing stocks, which are rapidly depleting.