A Major Irrigation Project (Accelerated Mahaweli Programme) and the Chronic Kidney Disease of Multifactorial Origin in Sri Lanka

Abstract (Accelerated Mahaweli Programme) The Mahaweli River is the longest river in Sri Lanka. In 1978, the government of Sri Lanka launched the Accelerated Mahaweli Development Programme, under the purview of Mahaweli Authority of Sri Lanka, the largest irrigation program in the country. It is a multi-purpose development scheme designed for the generation of hydroelectricity, irrigation, and water for domestic consumption. Since the mid-1990s, a major, non-infectious epidemic of chronic kidney disease of multifactorial origin (CKDmfo) has been reported in Sri Lanka for which no cause has been identified. This disease predominantly affects dry zonal, agricultural regions, particularly the North Central Province (NCP). During the past two decades, thousands of people have died due to this disease. This article assesses whether there is a relationship between this environmental impact from this major irrigation project and the deadly disease of CKDmfo. Water in the Mahaweli River is known to be polluted with various compounds, including phosphates coming from the excessive use of fertiliser in the hill country. However, the levels of phosphate in the Mahaweli River and in the NCP reservoirs are less than 0.15 mg/L. Such levels can cause ecological harm but are not a threat to human health nor causes renal failure. In addition, there are large regions outside the Mahaweli-fed localities where people are affected with CKDmfo. Thus, it is unlikely that water from the Mahaweli River itself is directly related to the occurrence of CKDmfo, but its harmful environmental impact is noticeable. Nevertheless, excess phosphates can cause algae blooms and cyanobacterial growth in water bodies, which harm aquatic lives and the ecology. Thus, governments and society must take responsibility and initiate actions to minimise environmental harm, protect and preserve the watersheds, curb the overuse of agrochemicals, and preserve water quality and the environment for current and future generations.

Running header: “River Mahaweli and CKDmfo”

Keywords Agribusiness, Agrochemicals, CKDu, Dry zone, Environment, Fertiliser, Pollution, Phosphate, Premature deaths.

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Accelerated Mahaweli Programme

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