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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Was FEMA ready for a disaster like Katrina?

Nightly News with Brian Williams - MSNBC.com: By Lisa Myers, Senior investigative correspondent, NBC News, Updated: 6:46 p.m. ET Sept. 2, 2005

WASHINGTON - The terrorist attacks of 2001 changed the priorities and focus of federal emergency planners. Former officials say 9/11 diverted attention from natural disasters such as Katrina, which had been the primary focus of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
A government document obtained by NBC News shows just how radically the focus shifted to terrorism. It is dated July 2004 and lists 222 upcoming FEMA and homeland security exercises scheduled to prepare for national emergencies. Only two involve hurricanes.
"And even in both of those cases, they're dealing with what would happen if there were a terrorist attack associated with a hurricane event," says NBC News analyst William Arkin.

What's more, it appears that the federal government did not follow up on an exercise last year that mostly predicted what happened in New Orleans — devastating flooding and hundreds of thousands stranded.
The scenario was dubbed Hurricane Pam: 120 mph winds, a massive storm surge, 20 feet of water in the city, 80 percent of buildings damaged, refugees on rooftops, possibly gun violence that would slow the rescue.
"What bothers me the most is all the people who've died unnecessarily," says Ivor Van Heerden, a hurricane researcher from Louisiana State University who ran the exercise.
Van Heerden says the federal government didn't take it seriously.
"Those FEMA officials wouldn't listen to me," he says. "Those Corps of Engineers people giggled in the back of the room when we tried to present information."
One recommendation from the exercise: Tent cities should be prepared for the homeless.
"Their response to me was: 'Americans don't live in tents,' and that was about it," recalls Van Heerden.
However, others say it's unfair to blame the federal government, that no amount of planning could have prepared for this.
"We have trained against similar scenarios, but it's not the same as a crisis unfolding before your eyes," says Frank Cilluffo, a former Bush administration aide for homeland security.
Homeland security officials also argue that no one predicted that flooding and devastation would encompass not just New Orleans but the entire Gulf Coast.
© 2005 MSNBC Interactive

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CB releases Sri Lanka Socio-Economic Data - 2005 Publication

Sri Lanka BUSINESS: Tuesday, 30 August 2005 - 3:15 AM SL Time
The Central Bank of Sri Lanka has released the latest Socio-Economic Data for 2005. This is the 28th volume of the series, which contains 94 pages and includes 88 Statistical Tables and 12 Charts covering the latest information on Human Resources, National Accounts, Agriculture, Industry, External Trade and Tourism, External Finance, Prices and Wages, the Fiscal Sector, the Financial Sector, Social and Economic Services and Socio-Economic Conditions in Sri Lanka, CB said. This publication provides disaggregated information at the provincial level on key economic variables, including GDP in current terms, agriculture, fisheries industry, electricity services, water consumption and revenue, postal services, telecommunication services and transportation services. The coverage of data in this publication has been expanded. It contains the latest information on socio economic conditions of households in Sri Lanka including the Northern and Eastern Provinces, from the Consumer Finances and Socio-Economic Survey 2003/2004 conducted by the Central Bank, along with a comparable set of countrywide data derived from the six previous surveys in the series that commenced in 1953. The volume also presents a set of country comparisons for the SAARC and South East Asian Region of key socio economic variables namely, demography, social indicators, national accounts, agriculture and industry, monetary and fiscal indicators, external trade and finance and inflation. Since this Publication presents a wide range of socio-economic data of current interest in summary form it will be very useful to policy makers, researchers, students and the general public. The publication, which is priced at Rs.100 per copy, is available for sale at the Publication Sales Counter of the Department of Information, Central Bank of Sri Lanka, 58, Sri Jayewardenepura Mawatha, Rajagiriya, Regional Offices of the Central Bank in Matara, Matale and Anuradhapura and leading book shops in Colombo. In addition to the printed version, this publication is also available on diskette priced at Rs.100 per copy.

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Sri Lanka receives US$1.2 billion of US$3.2 billion pledged in tsunami aid

The Academic: 02/09/2005"

Associated Press, Fri September 2, 2005 02:26 EDT . Sri Lanka's government said Friday it has received only about one-third of the US$3.2 billion (euro2.58 billion) in aid pledged after last year's devastating tsunami, which killed more than 31,000 people on the island. ``More should be coming, but right now we have only this amount,'' Mano Tittawella, chairman of the state-run Task Force for Rebuilding the Nation, said while inaugurating a Web site that will allow anyone access to information about post-tsunami recovery projects, including financial reports.

The government is ``committed to the transparent, accountable, and efficient use of resources for tsunami relief,'' Tittawella said about the Web site, named the Development Assistance Database.

The Dec. 26 tsunami affected 1 million of the country's of 19 million people. Tittawella said a total of US$1.2 billion (euro970 million) has been committed for 214 projects to date.

At an international conference in the Sri Lankan hill town of Kandy in May, donors pledged US$3.2 billion (euro2.58 billion) for Sri Lanka.

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Friday, September 02, 2005

SRI LANKA: New report on tsunami coverage criticizes local media

Asia Media: 31/08/2005" A Transparency International report released today says local media outlets spread political party propaganda

By Arthur Rhodes, AsiaMedia Contributing Writer

The corruption watchdog Transparency International has released a report criticizing the Sri Lankan media's post-tsunami coverage. The forty-five-page study, called Post-Tsunami Media Coverage: The Sri Lankan Experience, was presented today at a press conference held at Colombo's Renuka Hotel.

"We wanted to know if the journalists in this country are reporting the news with an agenda," said J.C. Weliamuna, Executive Director of Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL). "The study found that the media in Sri Lanka, irrespective of policy differences, engages in propaganda for parties which they prefer."

Weliamuna provided a brief introduction before distributing the report. He said that he hoped that the document would help spark a dialogue amongst Sri Lanka's journalists about the priorities and practices of the nation's media.

"We think this can be an opportunity for the media in Sri Lanka to look at itself," said Weliamuna.

The report, which was intended to examine whether the media's coverage of the tsunami and its aftermath gave voice to affected people, was a study of 12 Sinhala, four Tamil, and seven English newspapers and their coverage of post-tsunami issues over a seven day period from Mar. 20 through Mar. 26. It also examined eight Sinhala radio stations and five Sinhala television stations over the same period.

To many of those involved with Sri Lankan media and media issues these findings will not come as a surprise. "These conclusions are not news," said Sasanka Perera, a professor of sociology at the University of Colombo. Perera, who teaches a course on contemporary media issues in Sri Lanka, said the bigger issue is the lack of an institutionalized media watchdog in Sri Lanka. He called on Transparency International, which normally focuses on issues of governmental corruption, to continue calling for media reform.

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Thursday, September 01, 2005

Sethu Project - Some facts and fiction

Sri Lanka BUSINESS: Monday, 29 August 2005 - 1:34 AM SL Time
Sri Lanka`s 17 delegates were only interested in the length and the depth of the canal`

' Prof S Ramachandran a member of the Indian delegation to the 2nd round of Indo Lanka talks on the SS project speaking to BBC on 1st August 2005.

`Colombo Port is likely to gain in transshipment volumes. For ports on India`s west coast, the most popular transshipment port is Singapore. With the SSCP Colombo can offer a cost effective alternative. SSCP is also likely to reduce instances of accidental straying of Indian fishermen into Sri Lanka`s waters. SSCP will therefore be a win-win project for both India and Sri Lanka. (Indian High Commission Independence Day Supplement 15th August 2005).

Learned professors observation is symptomatic of an arrogant, newly rich India`s responses to Sri Lanka`s concerns on the impact of the SSCP Project on Sri Lanka`s interests. Sri Lanka`s delegation to the long awaited second round of bilateral talks, consisted of 17 eminent experts on oceanography, marine biology, hydraulics, geology, aquatic resources and marine pollution, drawn from universities and government agencies. By insulting this team professor R has only disgraced himself, if not his team and his country.

BBC reporting from New Delhi on the day bilateral talks were held (and published at 16.37 GMT) also announced that Sri Lankan government has conveyed to India, Sri Lanka has no objection to the SSCP project. That statement of BBC, famous for spinning yarns, belongs to Star Trek type fiction! Sri Lanka`s High Commission in New Delhi promptly enlightened the BBC that Sri Lanka did not give India a go-ahead signal as was reported by BBC. The motto of the BBC appears to be `practical journalism consists in ignoring facts`.

Besides the BBC, the Indian Minister of Shipping too told reporters in New Delhi on 14.04.05 `No, there is no objection from the Sri Lanka government. We have said there is no environment issue involved as it is just dredging work.` Minister and BBC appear to be thriving on spinning yarns.

Facts and fiction continues to flow as seen by the patronizing hopes expressed in India`s Independence Day Supplement. For the information of the Indian High Commission in Colombo India`s Ministry of Shipping published on 1st Nov 2004, in a full page advertisement in all the Indian National papers, proclaiming that with the canal `transshipment of India`s cargo on foreign shores will gradually decrease and after sometime stop altogether. The newly established website of Sethu Samudran Corpn Ltd reproduces this same proclamation or objective to justify the USD560m investment on the project.

Sri Lanka cannot object to India`s attempt to stop its cargo from being transshipped from Sri Lanka`s ports. But why does the HC in Colombo seek to hide that fact and give false hopes by even contradicting the official declarations by the Indian Minister and his able Lieutenant Chairman of Sethu Corporation Ltd who is also chairman of Tuticorin Port Trust. He is also a member of India`s delegation to bilateral talks.

It is interesting to note that the Independence Day Supplement of the High Commission repeats almost verbatim several paragraphs of the advertisement referred to above. But diplomatically, paras referring to the declared objective of India are left out. India HC`s motto seems to be `get the facts first, then distort them as you please`. (Mark Twain)

For the information of the readers, currently most of the containers from India`s west coast ports of Mumbai and Cochin are shipped directly on main line vessels to Europe, US east coast, as well as to the far east including China and Japan. These services are provided with 2500-3000 TEU vessels which are more profitable to operate than the mega vessels. Of the balance some containers (mostly to the US West Coast and Far East) are carried to Singapore by feeder vessels for transshipment. Tuticorin Port on the East Coast of India is the principal port from which Indian cargo is carried by feeder vessels to Colombo for transshipment. Small volumes from Chennai, Cochin and Mumbai are also transshipped from Colombo.

Tuticorin Port is expected to be the principal beneficiary according to the proponents of the Sethu Canal, which will be cut from that port to the Bay of Bengal. Hence the appointment of Chairman Tuticorin Port Trust as the Chairman of Sethu Corporation Limited is understandable. He is as determined as his Minister to stop Indian cargo from being transshipped in Colombo.

Indian High Commission diplomatically omitted the fact that apart from the SS Canal, a major international hub port is being built at Vallarpadam, on the West Coast to compliment the Canal in stopping transshipment of India cargo from foreign shores. The foundation stone for that project too was laid by the Indian PM on 16. 02.2005. Proponents of that project declared at the ceremony that Vallarpadam would bring back India`s containers being transshipped through Colombo. They have even declared that they hope to attract even Sri Lanka`s export/import cargo to be transshipped from Vallarpadam. Hence it is not surprising that belatedly Sri Lankan `business community` has woken up to assess the impending threat by organizing a seminar!

Since these are the facts which cannot be denied, it is a mystery how an Indian diplomat in Colombo expects the Sethu Canal extending from Tuticorin to Bay of Bengal on the east, to increase west coast Indian cargo being transshipped in Colombo. Perhaps there are lies, damn lies and diplomatic lies.

Indian Minister of Shipping speaking about the SS project declared on 24, August 2005, in Chennai that:

a) `there is perfect co-ordination between the two countries Sri Lanka and India

b) the channel would pave the way for development of KKS Port in Sri Lanka.

c) announced the next round of talks with Sri Lankan experts would be held in New Delhi on 1st Aug 2005.

The truth is that it took 7 months for India to respond to GOSL`s repeated request to give a date for a second meeting of experts. The invitation for the 2nd meeting to be held on Monday August 1st was received by the GOSL only on Tuesday the 26th July perhaps expecting GOSL to ask for a postponement. Fortunately Sri Lankan experts were fully prepared to enlighten the Indian experts on the possible adverse impact of the canal on Sri Lanka`s interests. So much for the perfect co-ordination as claimed by the Indian Minister of Shipping.

Secondly despite repeated requests to the Indian Government by Sri Lanka from September 2004 and solemn promises made to our President by the Indian PM, complete copy of EIA and Detailed Project reports were given to our delegation only on 1st August 2005 after the project was launched by the Indian PM. Our delegation had to demand for the complete reports.

As is well known, Pro LTTE DMK of Tamil Nadu and India`s Shipping Minister, a member of DMK are the principal champions of the canal project. Chief Minster Jayalalitha, a strong opponent of the LTTE, refused even to participate in the opening ceremony of the project attended by Sonia Gandhi whose husband was killed by the LTTE. Hence Indian Minister`s attempt to placate the LTTE by raising hopes of the canal benefiting KKS Port is understandable, though fictitious. Facts are a ship sailing to KKS from Colombo through the canal will have to pay canal dues and consume additional fuel due to slow steaming and delays.

Independence Day Supplement also claimed benefits from the canal for the fishermen of both India and Sri Lanka. While this claim belongs to the realm of fiction, the facts are several millions of India fishermen observed Independence Day on 15th August as a BLACK DAY claiming the canal could affect the livelihood of at least 2.5m people in the region. Sri Lankan fishermen too staged demonstrations in Mannar against the project which could deprive the livelihood of several thousand Sri Lankan fishermen. Indian fishermen and their supporters have also filed a law suit with India`s Supreme Court charging that the GOI has not undertaken a proper environmental impact study. Their appeal to the Chennai High Court failed when the HC judge ruled `no doubt the environment must be protected, but at the same time we must never overlook the basic aim of our country which is to make India powerful!`.

The High Commission supplement further claims that, `since the channel is only 20 km away from marine breeding grounds there will be no impact on either the coral reefs or mangroves due to dredging or shipping operations`.

Any fishermen would have enlightened the author of the supplement that water cannot be compartmentalized by a canal cut through sand (and not land) and that water flows and fish swim even long distances. Inevitable pollution from ships and turbidity from dredging would drive away the fish and destroy the highly fragile marine biosphere. On what scientific finding the Indian diplomat made this rash assumption is not given.

In a futile attempt to defend the indefensible, the supplement claims that a `monitoring committee to assess the impact of dredging on the environment has been set up consisting of marine biologists and experts in fisheries and agriculture.

Prof. G. Victor Rajamanikam one of India`s eminent coastal geo-morphologist and mineralogist in an interview on 14.08.05 published in the Asia Tribune has stated that the Committee will be able to do only 10% of the total monitoring in the absence of hydrographers, geo-morphologists, sedimentologists mineralogists, oceanographers, climatologists.

Indian Diplomats assurances that the environmentally daring and technologically daunting canal project will not adversely affect the environment, marine biosphere and millions of fishermen in India and Sri Lanka, but will be a win-win project for Sri Lanka are speculations, based on assumptions bereft of any scientific findings.

As professor Raja Mannikam has declared `unless earth system science teams monitor the dredging operations from the start the whole activity will be a failure sooner or later` That would be a win-win situation for the environment and marine fauna and flora of the Palk Straits.

Source(s)
• Independent Journalist

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Production fertility in Sri Lanka lowest in Asia

Sri Lanka BUSINESS:: Production fertility in Sri Lanka lowest in Asia: Thursday, 1 September 2005 - 2:27 AM SL Time
According to a survey held on worker population, the working hours of a government sector employee is 2 hours and that of a public sector employee is there hours, said Herath Yapa, Labour Department Employees` Education Section Labour Commission recently.

He was addressing a Mahapola `Nana Pahana` education programme, held at the Deyyandara M.M.V.

He further said that Sri Lanka has the lowest production fertility rate in Asia. In 1977 the late President J. R. Jayawardana had pledged the country would be developed like Singapore. But it never materialised, he said.

A country progressed when production in agriculture was increased. In developed countries, agriculture was developed to its highest potential, Herath said.

The commissioner added that in Sri Lanka, increase in workers` re-numeration was not commensurate with the increase in input. The workers debateed on salary anomalies but did not put heart and soul to their work, and the economy kept divindling daily, Herath said.

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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Student unions blast Education Secretary over privatizing Sri Lanka education system

Sri Lanka, 8 - 23 - 2005: Student unions blast Education Secretary over privatizing Sri Lanka education system: Tuesday, August 23, 2005, 12:39 GMT, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

Aug 29, Colombo: The Information Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA) together with the country's active ICT partners have finalized everything for a Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) Week.
“The driving purpose behind the FOSS week would be to bring recognition to Sri Lanka by hosting international FOSS conferences, to promote the use of FOSS solutions in Sri Lanka for the benefit of business, government and academia, to bring awareness to Sri Lanka’s FOSS capability and accomplishments and to help brand Sri Lanka as a hub for FOSS activities in Asia,” chairman of the ICTA, the country’s apex body for ICT-related policies and activities, Professor V.K. Samaranayake told LankaPage.
This year Sri Lanka will host the National Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) week on September 5-11. The event will be inaugurated by Prime Minister Hon. Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The week will feature a number of important events, conferences and workshops. Of the many events organized is the CXO conference targeted at business decision-makers, CEOs, CIOs of the public and private sectors, LK-LUG, IT engineering and MIS professionals, the education community, academic lecturers, headmasters, teachers and of course the general public.
A major incentive for developing countries to adopt FOSS systems is the enormous cost of proprietary software licenses. Because virtually all proprietary software in developing countries is imported, their purchase consumes precious hard currency and foreign reserves. These reserves could be better spent on other development goals.
One of the most important benefits for enterprises and government organizations is the low total cost of ownership due to low cost of development, and the return on investment makes it incomparable to any other proprietary system in all of the above areas.
Sri Lanka has a lead in the Asian region on FOSS mainly due the degree of contribution to the FOSS community by Sri Lankans. Most of this contribution has been to the Apache Software Foundation through the NPO Lanka Software Foundation.
Lanka Software Foundation (LSF) is a non-profit foundation whose mission is to encourage Sri Lankan developers to participate in global open-source software projects. LSF believes that open source can be a major positive influence in the further development of Sri Lanka.
In addition, FOSS has been promoted in the IT industry for 10 years now by the LK-LUG (Lanka Linux User Group), which was founded at Peradeniya University but now spans most of the IT industry. This group has also been responsible for developing the first Sinhala Operating System (based on Linux). This cause is now being supported commercially by companies like Redhat.
In addition, for the software export market, companies such as Virtusa, M-net, hSenid and system integration companies such as VCS and OST have or are building export oriented service/product offerings on FOSS.

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All set for Free and Open Source Software Week in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka, 8 - 29 - 2005: Monday, August 29, 2005, 12:11 GMT, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka. By Athula Pushpakumara,

Aug 29, Colombo: The Information Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA) together with the country's active ICT partners have finalized everything for a Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) Week.
“The driving purpose behind the FOSS week would be to bring recognition to Sri Lanka by hosting international FOSS conferences, to promote the use of FOSS solutions in Sri Lanka for the benefit of business, government and academia, to bring awareness to Sri Lanka’s FOSS capability and accomplishments and to help brand Sri Lanka as a hub for FOSS activities in Asia,” chairman of the ICTA, the country’s apex body for ICT-related policies and activities, Professor V.K. Samaranayake told LankaPage.
This year Sri Lanka will host the National Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) week on September 5-11. The event will be inaugurated by Prime Minister Hon. Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The week will feature a number of important events, conferences and workshops. Of the many events organized is the CXO conference targeted at business decision-makers, CEOs, CIOs of the public and private sectors, LK-LUG, IT engineering and MIS professionals, the education community, academic lecturers, headmasters, teachers and of course the general public.
A major incentive for developing countries to adopt FOSS systems is the enormous cost of proprietary software licenses. Because virtually all proprietary software in developing countries is imported, their purchase consumes precious hard currency and foreign reserves. These reserves could be better spent on other development goals.
One of the most important benefits for enterprises and government organizations is the low total cost of ownership due to low cost of development, and the return on investment makes it incomparable to any other proprietary system in all of the above areas.
Sri Lanka has a lead in the Asian region on FOSS mainly due the degree of contribution to the FOSS community by Sri Lankans. Most of this contribution has been to the Apache Software Foundation through the NPO Lanka Software Foundation.
Lanka Software Foundation (LSF) is a non-profit foundation whose mission is to encourage Sri Lankan developers to participate in global open-source software projects. LSF believes that open source can be a major positive influence in the further development of Sri Lanka.
In addition, FOSS has been promoted in the IT industry for 10 years now by the LK-LUG (Lanka Linux User Group), which was founded at Peradeniya University but now spans most of the IT industry. This group has also been responsible for developing the first Sinhala Operating System (based on Linux). This cause is now being supported commercially by companies like Redhat.
In addition, for the software export market, companies such as Virtusa, M-net, hSenid and system integration companies such as VCS and OST have or are building export oriented service/product offerings on FOSS.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Transparency International Sri Lanka calls on authorities to address the 'Mega Cabinet'

Sri Lanka, 8 - 22 - 2005: Transparency International Sri Lanka calls on authorities to address the 'Mega Cabinet': Monday, August 22, 2005, 12:11 GMT, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.
Aug 22, Colombo:
Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) today expressed the need to create a powerful opinion against having 'jumbo' Cabinets, common in Sri Lanka for almost three decades. It called on authorities to address the issue as soon as possible.
In a statement, TISL said, “Unsound political tradition of having ‘jumbo’ Cabinets continues in Sri Lanka for almost three decades and indications are that this practice will continue, unless a powerful public opinion is created opposing this move. At present, all except two Members of Parliament of the governing party are Ministers or Deputy Ministers.
“TISL has repeatedly stated that the government of Sri Lanka cannot afford to have high number of Ministers and Deputy Ministers for two basic reasons. Firstly, the oversight of the executive by parliament has become extremely weak due to having a large number of Members of Parliament in the executive branch. Secondly, the perks and other emoluments given to the MPs are unaffordable for a country whose economy is extremely weak and every cent is critical for development purposes.
“Under the present constitutional arrangement, there are no stipulated numbers for Cabinet or Deputy Ministers. The President may appoint any Member of Parliament as a Minister of Deputy Minister. Neither the Presidents nor governments that were formed under the present Constitution have made any attempt to introduce a worthwhile tradition in this regard,” the organisation continued.
“TISL also believes that it is the prime responsibility of the President, Prime Minister, Opposition Leader and leaders of the political parties to address this issue beyond political advantages as a matter of priority and to introduce a democratic tradition for the benefit of the country. We trust that it is time for the political authorities to realize the basic principle that they enjoy the public finance, full control of which is vested in parliament.”

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Sunera's effort to heal wounded minds

Sunday Observer: 28/08/2005" by Ranga Chandrarathne

A novel method of rehabilitating a large number of tsunami affected persons in refugee camps and makeshift shelters, through a series of theatre workshops has been the brainchild of Sunera.

The cast of these workshops come from the affected communities. The workshop provides them a platform to air their feelings and narrate the horrendous experiences they have undergone.

Sunera, which was in the forefront of rehabilitation and reintegration of differently abled persons into society, has come forward to contribute it's share to the national effort, by healing the traumatised tsunami victims.

I had the opportunity of being a spectator at one of the workshops conducted in the Southern Province, by the Sunera Foundation.

What unfolds on stage, is a story about the affected persons. The stories are true and the present cast had indeed gone through the traumas that were being depicted on stage.

The workshop was a success from all conceivable perspectives. This was visible from the bright faces of the participants.

The tsunami special project was commenced, in addition to the regular workshops conducted islandwide by Sunera to empower the differently abled So far, the Sunera Foundation, has conducted workshops in the worst affected areas and trained 36 workshop leaders. A two-year Leadership Training Programme was conducted with funding from the British Government's Department for International Development. Specialists from the United Kingdom and Australia have also contributed in conducting leadership programmes.

The Sunera Foundation hopes to continue the process by setting up regular workshops. As the Foundation is in need of funds for the expansion of its activities under the Tsunami Outreach Workshop project and to continue its theatre workshops, a charity 'Dinner of the year' has been organised to raise funds. It will be held on Sunday, September 4 at the Colombo Plaza.

In order to increase further accessibility for the disadvantaged young men and women of all ethnic groups, the Sunera Foundation plans to have its own institutional infrastructure by way of an integrated theatre complex.

The Complex would provide a whole range of facilities including venues for conducting training programmes in dance, music, drama and the fine arts, an exhibition arena, library and residential facilities.

It will provide facilities free of charge for conducting the training programmes. It will also facilitate specially trained teachers in the field to produce dramas and performances. In addition, the Centre will provide a fully equipped Auditorium for drama and musical performances and for exhibitions.

The tsunami victims who have overcome the trauma after joining the workshops had some amazing accounts to relate. "I met Chandrika Premalal, one of the beneficiaries of the workshop, at the site. He related the horrendous experience of the tsunami and how he survived from the roaring waves by clinging on to a boat entangled in a bed of rocks. The incident still haunted him."

"Though I am a skilled swimmer, I could not swim against the tide. I was taken away by the waves and as luck would have it, I clung onto the boat. After this, I suffered from acute sleeplessness because this haunted me. But after participating in the workshop, I got rid of that feeling and I could go back to swimming without fear" said Chandrika. M. K. Dilini Priyanthika was in a bus, which was passing the Seenigama Devalaya, and the bus was caught in the waves and was dashed onto a tree.

"I too got rid of this haunting feeling after joining the workshop. Now I am not afraid of the past and I can face the future with confidence. I was also able to overcome hallucinations" said Dilini Vinodani Kumari lost everything in the tsunami. She was desperate and she got a house from the Government.

"At first, when I heard the commotion, I thought it was a quarrel going on outside the house.

When suddenly the waves struck us, I was able to survive, clinging on to a floating log.

After the workshop I was able to overcome feelings of despair and hopelessness. Thanks to the Sunera Foundation, now I can start life afresh" said Vinodani.

K. D. Dilshan Sandareka (12) who lived in a wooden house opposite the Seenigama Devalaya was rendered destitute by the tsunami.

"We had two lorries and a trishaw, but we lost everything after the tsunami. Everything was washed away.

I swam passing bodies and it was a harrowing experience. Thanks to Sunera Foundation, I was able to get rid of these negative feelings" said Sandareka.

Sunera Foundation

Envisioned by its Chairperson, Sunethra Bandaranaike, the voluntary organisation is the first of its kind in Sri Lanka dedicated to the rehabilitation and reintegration of the differently-abled into the mainstream Sri Lankan society.

The process of healing is done through a series of theatre workshops providing an avenue to release pent-up emotions and to develop creativity through ingenuous theatre techniques which are unique and improvised to instil a sense of hope in the participants.

Sunera has conducted several workshops and performances here and abroad.

"Flowers will always bloom" was performed in London in May 2001 at Riverside Studio to packed audience for three consecutive days. The production consisted of a 45 strong cast of persons form all ethnic communities.

"A Prayer For Peace" was performed by four members of The Butterflies Theatre Company at the Wataboshi Festival of Music in Brisbane (November 2003). Later this production was performed with an additional cast at the Disimilisestival in Oslo (June 2004).

At the moment the foundation is in the process of raising funds for the ambitious Integrated Theatre Complex, which is to be served as a Centre of creative excellence. From the inception of the Foundation, theatre personnel Wolfgang Stange, Rohanadeva and Ramani Damayanthi assisted the workshops conducted here and abroad.

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Monday, August 29, 2005

Ceylon Chamber to raise concerns over Sethusamudram Canal Project

Sri Lanka BUSINESS:: Friday, 26 August 2005 - 3:25 AM SL Time

The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce will raise concerns over the `Sethusamudram naval canal project` initiated by India creating much discussion and debate among government officials, environmental groups, business community and the general public both in India and in Sri Lanka. Diverse views are expressed on the implications of the project. The seminar is intended to enlighten the business community on the progress made by the Governments of India and Sri Lanka on the proposed project and on the possible implications of the project on business to facilitate business sector to adopt appropriate strategies to face the implications more effectively. Members of the Sri Lankan Government delegation that visited India recently for discussions on the project and experts who have studied the project have been invited to address the seminar. The seminar is scheduled for 29th August 2005 at 1.45 p.m. at the ground floor auditorium of the Chamber. The following areas would be covered during the seminar: Sethusamudram Canal- Is there an Economic and Maritime value, Implications on Shipping and Ports, Measures to cope with Navigation and Emergency, Impact of the Sethusamudram Canal Project on Environment and Fisheries and Steps taken by the government to address the concern of Sri Lanka. The participants would be afforded the opportunity to clarify their issues from the expert panel of speakers and panelists during the open forum.

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25-7-2005 Sethusamudram ship canal - Troubled waters ahead for Sri Lanka?23-7-2005 Local protest to follow Indian on Sethusamudram Project3-7-2005 Lanka signals `go ahead` to Sethusamudram29-6-2005 Sri Lankan experts to meet with Indian counterparts in Delhi on Sethusamudram17-6-2005 Sethu Project will block Sea Tigers` activities: Indian expert

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A response to: NGO's delay tsunami housing

Sunday Observer: 28/08/2005"

Caritas Sri Lanka - SEDEC and SOS Children's Villages of Sri Lanka have responded to our news story with the above title which appeared last week on this page.

Caritas in a letter to the Ministry of Urban Development and Water Supply and to the Urban Development Authority states that it is the Social Action Agency of the Catholic Bishop's Conference of Sri Lanka affiliated to the Confederation of Caritas International. The letter states inter alia that as at July 15, 2005 MoUs had been signed in respect of 11 land allocations. Subsequently MoUs have been signed in respect of 5 more lands. It further states:

"Although MoUs have been entered in respect of 11 sites possession had been handed over in respect of only 4 lands and there too construction is not possible due to unresolved disputes.

"Since there is a delay in obtaining suitable state land, we have on our own purchased seven plots of land in Colombo, Galle, Beruwala, Kalutara, Chilaw and Batticaloa. So far the total money spent on purchasing lands is over Rs. 40.4 million. More than 80 homes were completed outside the buffer zones on private land and handed over to the beneficiaries in Kalutara and another 140 homes are under construction. We are planning to complete or at least commence construction on a target of 5,000 houses by December 26".

SOS Children's Villages of Sri Lanka says it has undertaken construction of 750, 263 and 130 housing units for tsunami victims in Komari Divisions I and II, Kayankerni and Iraalodai respectively but LTTE ompelled it to abandon the Iraalodai project.

It also says:

"SOS Sri Lanka has not bought any luxury vehicles nor leased any five star hotel rooms to accommodate expatriates or other officials of the organisation. Neither does the organisation have donor money intact in deposit accounts earning interest. Funds are received from SOS Kinderdorf International for Tsunami construction and relief work in stages, according to the progress made.

SOS Sri Lanka will not build sub-standard or interior houses, as contractors are committed to build according to the technical specifications and under supervision of our qualified consultants.

"The summary of progress in housing and infrastructure construction is as follows:

Units assigned: 1,013 (excluding Iraalodai)

Sites: 2

Work begun at sites: 2

Land units handed over: 585 (including 190 land units assigned to victims who do not wish to build their houses in the relocation site at Komari).

Progress outside the relocation site (Komari): 21 houses were completed. 15 houses undertaken for repairs and 5 houses were completed. Progress outside the relocation site (Kayankerny): 10 nos of foundation have been completed. 15 nos foundation trenches are in progress.

Progress within the relocation site (Komari): 200 nos plot have been set out. 60% of the internal roads have been marked and cleared. 10 nos. houses are set out. 4 nos foundation trenches are completed. 2 nos. house frames are erected. Progress within the relocation site (Kayankermy): 85 plots have been set out. Number of houses, which have been set out is 14. 5 nos. of foundation have been completed. 9 nos. foundation trenches are in progress.

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Sunday, August 28, 2005

Top of the crops

Daily News: 27/08/2005" BY JOHNJOE McFadden

The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk

WHILE we in the west are preoccupied with cloning sheep, pigs, dogs and, of course, ourselves, scientists in the developing world are focused on an organism of far greater importance: rice. According to a Chinese saying, "the most precious things are not jade and pearls but the five grains".

Earlier this month the genome of one of those five grains was laid bare when the complete genome sequence of rice was published in the journal Nature.

Rice is the staple food crop for 3 billion people, mostly in Asia. But most of those dependent on the crop still go hungry.

About 800 million people don't have enough to eat, many of them children, and about 5 million will die of diseases related to malnutrition. And with the world's population increasing at a rate of about 86 million people a year, things could get a lot worse.

It is estimated that rice production will have to increase by about 30 per cent in the next 20 years to keep pace with population growth and economic development. Where is all the food going to come from?

There are two principal ways to boost food production: increasing the amount of land under cultivation or increasing yields. Until the 60s the favoured strategy was putting more land under the plough, resulting in the loss of much of the world's wilderness and native forest.

But in the 60s plant breeders such as Norman Borlaug pioneered a new strategy, increasing crop yields through a mixture of seed improvement and technological inputs: the green revolution.

As crops of the new varieties were planted, first in Mexico and then throughout the world, particularly in Asia, harvests soared and have continued to rise at a rate of about 2 per cent a year.

But the green revolution is grinding to a halt. There have been only small yield increases in recent years, and it is thought that rice grown on the most productive irrigated land has now achieved maximum production levels.

The challenge for the future is to increase yields in more marginal lands, where much of the crop ends up in the bellies of insects or is devastated by drought or disease.

Many scientists (including Borlaug) believe that the only way to provide food security for the world's poorest people is to genetically engineer crops that are more resistant to nature's ravages.

The potential value of GM crops was highlighted earlier this year with the publication of the results of a Chinese study that demonstrated a 10 per cent increase in yield for farms that planted an insect-resistant GM variety of rice.

In a typically Chinese understatement, Professor Jikun Huang, the director of the Centre for Chinese Agricultural Policy at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said: "The performance of insect-resistant GM rice in trials has been impressive."

Not only were yields up, but the use of pesticides dropped by 80 per cent and farmers reported a dramatic reduction in pesticide-related health problems.

But inserting a single gene is just tinkering. What the rice genome project provides is a blueprint of the entire genome and the capability to engineer the crop to meet the needs of farmers throughout the world.

The rice genome was sequenced by the International Rice Genome Sequencing Project, a unique collaboration of researchers in Japan, China, Taiwan, Thailand, Korea, the US, Canada, France, India, Brazil, the Philippines and the UK.

The project, with its insistence on making its data immediately available to scientists anywhere in the world at no cost, is a glowing example of one of the positive benefits of globalisation: internationally collaborative science that can benefit the entire world. Even before publication, researchers had already mined the rice genome data to identify novel genes.

Of course, many aid organisations - often heavily influenced by western green campaigns - have attacked the emphasis on GM technology, calling it a 'technical fix' that does little to address the real social and economic causes of world poverty and hunger.

They said the same several decades ago when widespread famine was predicted to follow a population explosion.

The population explosion materialised but the famine didn't. The reason was that while others argued for social reform, pioneering plant breeders launched the green revolution and saved millions from starvation.

The Human Development Report 2001, commissioned by the United Nations development programme, concluded that "many developing countries might reap great benefits from genetically modified food crops and other organisms".

Some 1.2 million people live on less than one dollar a day, and that dollar usually buys rice. But the crop is prone to many diseases, pests and unpredictable climate change.

Genetic engineering of crops to generate new varieties resistant to disease, pests, drought and salinity could revolutionise third-world farming. The release of the rice genome sequence places a powerful toolkit in the hands of researchers eager to improve crop yields.

(Courtesy - The Guardian)

(The writer Johnjoe McFadden is professor of molecular genetics at the University of Surrey and author of Quantum Evolution)

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