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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, October 22, 2005

The children still suffer...

Daily News: 12/10/2005"

Sandun (real names withheld) is a 14-year-old boy who was caught in the full force of the tsunami surge. He was swept away from the rubble of his destroyed seaside home almost kilometer in to an inland lagoon, where some people on a boat managed to rescue him and save his life. Although Sandun and his siblings survived, they lost both parents and their home.

While Sandun's younger siblings appear to have adjusted to life after the tsunami in the care of a relative, he still suffers nightmares and wets the bed. Ten months after the tsunami, the trauma of it all has not quite subsided in the psyche this young boy.

Kamala, 15, from the east coast is another child who lives with the tsunami trauma. She lost her mother and their home in the disaster but to date cannot recall any part of that day. If she is asked to recount the events of December 26, the tsunami day, she faints. Saman also has a problem.

The stick thin boy has suffered from an eating disorder since the tsunami and looks, by now, quite under-nourished for a 13-year-old. Then there is baby Manel, who lost her mother when she was just around one year. For the past year she has been in and out of hospitals suffering from a range of diseases and disorders.

There are Damith and Dinusha, young brother and sister from Hambantota who are still afraid of playing on the beach despite living a stones throw away from the ocean. These are but a very small cross section of children who have suffered through the tsunami and have lost parents, family members and homes. The fact is that many of these children still suffer from trauma and the effects manifest in many different ways. Some children drop out of school and refuse to go back, especially if they have to attend a new school.

Others withdraw and become uncommunicative. Some children who had showed no signs of trauma or ill effects right after the disaster have since then developed various personality issues.

But there are stories of amazing resilience too. Geetha, an 18-year-old from Batticaloa suffered a tremendous loss-parents and six brothers and sisters, but she managed to sit for her A/L exam last June studying borrowed notes. She is determined today to re-sit her exam to get better results next year and follow further education.

Although it is easy to think that the child has a stable foster home, continues school and maintains social contacts that trauma will not be a problem- we see that the actual situation is much more complex on the ground.

There is no one-fits-all solution. Every child is an individual and they suffer differently. Children from the same family will manifest different levels of stress- even though they have suffered the same loss and are now in the same foster home. Some adjust well, recall the tsunami without fear or hesitation and do well in school - while others, clearly need help.

The frenzy for psychiatric help and counseling that was spurred by the tsunami has now died down.

In the first few moths after the tsunami we saw all kinds of experts, counselors, interns, etc. etc. flying over to treat these traumatized people, children were a special target.

There was a story about how children in refugee camps (at the time) would hide from teams of such well-wishers who come and initiate games, drawing and interactive sessions with the 'victim' children- because there were so many such teams coming at different times of the day.

But today, no one talks about the psycho-social aspect, except the very grass roots organizations who are working with such children and their families.

There is a huge need for such services out there and this needs to catch the attention of all those working in child welfare.

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Friday, October 21, 2005

Delay in CC might affect polls, says NPC chief

Daily Mirror: 12/10/2005" By Gihan de Chickera

National Police Commission Chairman Ranjith Abeysuriya yesterday slammed the leaders of the country for not appointing the Constitutional Council, saying the delay threatened the future of the NPC as well as the independence of the police service.

Mr. Abeysuriya said the NPC was established at the request of all parties and the public for the purposes of serving the best interests of the people. He said the current commission was appointed on November 24 last year 2002 and its three-year term would end next month, a week after the presidential elections.

“The Constitutional Council is essential to appoint the NPC. The first CC was established three years ago and its term ended in early 2005. But no appointments have been made to the CC,” Mr. Abeysuriya said.

“We should be ashamed of this situation. If the outside world found out about this situation they would wonder why we are not concerned about such a serious issue,” he said.

Mr. Abeysuriya strongly urged all the leaders to work towards appointing the CC. “Everyone is asking for the CC to be appointed. Every party wants it appointed. Even the Elections Commissioner wants it appointed,” he said.

Speaking to journalist at a PAFFREL media briefing yesterday, he said the general election in April last yea was conducted while the NPC was functioning and this contributed significantly to the free and fair nature of the election.

He said if the NPC was not reappointed this year, police officers would be apprehensive about carrying out their election duties impartially because they would fear political interference after the elections.

He also said the term of the Public Service Commission would end on December 2. “Appointments to the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeal cannot be made without the CC. I personally know of a vacancy not being filled in the Court of Appeal because there is no CC,” he said.

The NPC on September 26 notified the IGP to stop all routine transfers until December 1. On October 10, even transfers of police officers were prevented by the NPC. The NPC has already issued a set of guidelines for police officers to carry out their election duties.

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Thursday, October 20, 2005

Providing Temporary Income to Tsunami-Affected Poor People in Sri Lanka

ADB: MANILA, PHILIPPINES (11 October 2005) - ADB has approved a US$2 million grant from its Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction (JFPR), financed by the Government of Japan, to help restore income-generating opportunities to poor people in Sri Lanka affected by the December 26 tsunami disaster.More than a third of the estimated 500,000 people in Sri Lanka affected by the tsunami lost their incomes. As many of the poor fishermen who lost their boats and fishing equipment are still awaiting their repair or replacement, they are unable to go back to their pre-tsunami standard of living and are dependent on government welfare programs.The project will provide temporary income opportunities to about 4,500 of these tsunami-affected people by employing them to improve drainage systems for 500 kilometers of local government roads damaged by the tsunami.The local roads will be selected from the Southern and North East provinces, and the southern part of the Western Province, with individual road subprojects to be carried out over four months each at different times over a span of 12 months.The selected workers will come from tsunami-affected areas in Western, Southern, and North East provinces, and will be trained by selected nongovernment organizations on road rehabilitation work."The tsunami destroyed most existing micro, small, and medium-sized businesses and local fisheries in the coastal belt, creating large-scale unemployment," says K. M. Tilakaratne, a Programs/Implementation Officer in ADB's Resident Mission in Sri Lanka. "The project will help meet the urgent need to rehabilitate the local economic and social systems."ADB has earlier approved $150 million grant and a $7 million loan for the Tsunami-affected Areas Rebuilding Project (TAARP) in Sri Lanka, which will help to improve the living conditions of people in tsunami-affected areas by restoring basic social infrastructure, community and public services, and livelihoods in these areas.The Ministry of Provincial Councils and Local Government is the executing agency for the JFPR grant project, which will be carried out over about 12 months.The JFPR was set up in 2000 with an initial contribution of Y10 billion (about $90 million), followed by additional contributions of $155 million and a commitment of $50 million. In January, the Government of Japan announced the provision of an additional $20 million through its trust funds at ADB to support relief measures in areas devastated by the December earthquake and tsunami.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

How to lose the cost of living battle thru’ incompetence

Daily Mirror: 11/10/2005" By Harsha de Silva, Ph.D

The bottom line is there is no validity in the Samaraweera argument that it is not possible to control cost of living increases when the oil prices are increasing. In fact inflation measured on a point-to-point basis came down over the last few months even though oil prices continued to increase. And that was thanks to the price revisions at the pump and the Central Bank raising interest rates to control demand pull inflationary pressure after heavy criticism from many quarters. This reminds me of some of the television talk shows in which the JVP freshmen appeared in 2004. I remember them asking why we needed a government if it could not hold rising consumer prices just because oil prices were going up. They were right. They should ask themselves or the remnants of their Rata Perata regime that question.

Now that the dust has settled, perhaps it is time to get back to our regular column on economics. Discussions that originate from these columns go to show the importance of the subject in this election campaign. It is also interesting to note the space The Daily News allocates to taking swipes at me through their Kavanthissa’s Election Diary column. Anyway, let’s get down to business.

Rata Perata government cannot be held responsible for soaring inflation?
Today we don’t have to refer to the controversial Giddens because the question raised by Mangala Samaraweera, the spokesman for the Hon. Prime Minister’s presidential campaign at a recent news conference is straight forward. That is, how can anyone intend to control cost of living escalations despite soaring world oil prices? According to news reports, spokesman Samaraweera had said “Ranil’s manifesto will not be accepted by the people. This has been prepared to fool and mislead the people. Although he talks about bringing down the cost of living Wickremesinghe has no idea about the position with regard oil prices in the world market."The central argument is that as long as oil prices are increasing, cost of living increases cannot be controlled. It is ironic that know-it-alls like Samaraweera can make such uninformed statements. But on the other hand, what economics does he know? I think the starting point should be to look around us. Given below are some selected references on inflation from our region. Now, is Samaraweera saying that countries besides Sri Lanka somehow have not been affected by rising oil prices? What a joke? Since the answer is obvious, there must be something else these other countries did that allowed them to control rising cost of living. Note that even countries with difficulties like Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam have not let inflation move up to half of what our levels are.

We keep company with Congo, Malawi and Ukraine at 12.5% inflation
That inflation in Sri Lanka is an outlier is true not just in developing Asia, but the entire world. According to the latest IMF statistics only 16 out of all countries in the world have higher inflation forecasts than Sri Lanka for 2005. Perhaps it’s worth finding out the company we keep. They are Angola, Congo, Erithria, Ghana, Guinea, Malawi, Mauritania, Nigeria and Zambia in the African region; Serbia and Montenegro in the Central and Eastern European region; Ukraine and Uzbekistan in the CIS region; Myanmar in the Developing Asian region; Yemen in the Middle East region and finally Haiti and Venezuela in the Western Hemisphere! This is a miserable indictment on us; please feel free to read more at www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/weo/2005/01.

Fuel price pass-throughs are far less inflationary
Economics, as I have mentioned in these columns before, is more complex than what meets the eye; specially the ignorant politician’s eye. This whole cost of living and inflation mess we are in today is something we could have avoided if these politicians had let the professionals; both at the Treasury and the Central Bank do their jobs. Looking at countries that have been successful in controlling inflation in the face of rising oil prices, it is clear that independence of officials is a common denominator.

The cardinal principle was to avoid widening the budget deficit to unsustainable levels through massive and untargeted fuel subsidies to keep pump prices unrealistically low. It has been shown that passing the adjustment to the user and employing alternative mechanisms to cushion the impact on those segments of the population who find it difficult to sustain price increases have worked much better in controlling economy wide cost of living problems. Evidence suggest that the inflationary impact of a fuel price pass through is much lower than when it is unsuccessfully ‘absorbed’ by the state until it is finally forced to give up the subsidy. The impact is not only on the domestic front but also on the external front with depleting foreign reserves and pressure on the currency. It’s really not difficult to see why this is the case. Let me explain it using Sri Lanka as an example.

Consequences of unintelligent policy
As oil prices kept increasing, the so called ‘pro poor’ Rata Perata Government kept pumping in more and more subsidies to maintain the prices at the pump; estimated to be in the region of LKR 20,000 million, until it was finally forced revise prices as inflation became unbearable. It should be noted that fuel subsidies are generally regressive, in that rich and upper middle class spend relatively more of their income on fuel than the poor and the lower middle class, therefore benefiting more from the subsidy. In any case, given the Government had no money to pay for the subsidies, or in other words to bridge the budget deficit caused by this huge unsustainable expense, it resorted to the most ‘anti poor’ policy any Government could ever undertake; it printed money. The results are evident. It deteriorated value of the currency, both inside and outside the country, causing immense burdens on people notwithstanding race, religion or place of origin. The worst affected are today unable to have food on the table and struggling to survive. Therefore it is no secret that cost of living has become a critical issue in the upcoming presidential election. The election, for the most part is one to select a leader with a vision to bring back a sense of dignity and three square meals on the tables of the masses of this country.

Tragicomedy
In this context it is humorous, yet sad, what Samaraweera’s presidential election campaign office has stated in a communiqué the other day through a spokesman who I wish not to bring in to this debate. According to the press the spokesman had refuted the claim made in Ranil Wickremasinghe's manifesto, stating the UNP will cease printing money and strengthen the rupee. He had said that Wickremesinghe had printed the highest amount of currency in the country's history and comparatively less had been printed by the Peoples Alliance.

The question is whether the gentleman is unaware of the facts or whether he is being deceitful in making such statements? Assuming the former, let me briefly explain to him and others in his shoes that printing money does not mean printing currency notes! This is the second time in one year that I have had to tutor these folks; first it was our now silent Darasiel (by the way, where is he?) when he attempted to deny printing money by saying he had not signed a single currency note. I thought we had made progress since then, but alas, these funny characters just keep popping up! In economics, what is referred to as printing money is the activity of the Treasury getting the Central Bank to purchase fresh government securities (Treasury Bills) in return for money that was thus far non existent. This is also called creating money, because only the Central Bank has the authority to create, or print money in this form. Once this money gets in to circulation through the Treasury and subsequently the banking system via payments to people for various goods, services or subsidies, the original amount printed gets multiplied by what is called the money multiplier, currently around 5, before finally settling in peoples wallets.

Open challenge
According to the Annual Report of the Central Bank for 2004, it’s holding of treasury bills increased from LKR 11.5 billion to LKR 74 billion during the year; a net money printing job of LKR 62.5 billion. I wish to point out to the Government spokesman that the same report for 2003 indicates that the Central Bank’s holding of treasury bills in fact reduced by LKR 29 billion in 2003 and LKR 18 billion in 2002 in the Ranil Wickremesinghe regime. Therefore, for anyone to say that the Rata Perata government printed less money than the previous one is an absolute and utter falsehood. I challenge any one in the Samaraweera team to prove me wrong! If not, I suggest that such lies not be repeated.

Fundamental untruths
The Hon. Prime Minister’s campaign office has mentioned further that the Rata Perata government had brought down inflation giving much relief to the people. This is absolute bunkum. Let us consider how our know-it-all politicians brought down inflation by forcing the Central Bank to print billions of rupees as explained earlier. On top of already existing supply push inflation pressure caused by high oil prices and the drought, it created demand pull inflation pressure; that is, too much money (printed money being much more than what was necessary to keep in tandem with the growth in the real economy) chasing too few goods. With this flooding of money in the economy combined with supply issues, the entire price structure started shifting upwards. Currently inflation measured by the annual average Colombo Consumer Price Index stands at 12.8 percent. In other words, rate of price increase of a typical basket of goods and services a family purchases is up by almost 13 percent since this time last year. In terms of domestic purchasing power, the value of the Sri Lanka rupee is 13 percent less than what it was a year ago. In contrast, inflation measured by the same yardstick was 14.2 percent in November 2001 just before the UNP assumed office and 3.7 percent in March 2004 just before it handed the reigns to the Rata Perata government.

Darasiel revisited
High inflation causes people from all walks of life ranging from farmers and fishermen to small business people to state and private sector workers and pensioners to become poorer. The group that is least affected is the rich; particularly those who have relatively less LKR denominated fixed income assets in their portfolios. Consider for example the millions of private sector workers who have contributed over decades to the EPF. They are seeing their capital erode because the so called pro-poor government has still not sufficiently adjusted rates paid to EPF investments upwards to account for high inflation rates which are yielding negative returns to the EPF holders. Same with small savers across the country who don’t know that the 5 percent they receive at the NSB is actually negative 8 percent in real terms! This high inflation rate regime combined with low deposit rates has turned Saradiel in to Darasiel whose Rata Perata policies are actually transferring wealth from the poor to the rich. Perhaps it might be good idea for the Prime Minister’s campaign office to invest LKR 200 to purchase a copy of the Annual Report of the Central Bank and study it before the next round of fiction is dished out by our powerful, yet embarrassingly ignorant duo of spokespeople.

Can inflation come down while oil prices go up?
Attempting to justify soaring inflation, Samaraweera had stated that during the past one year the world oil price rose by 177 per cent and that during the two years when Ranil Wickremesinghe was Prime Minister, they rose by only 14 percent. Again the facts do not support this position. According to the publicly available statistics of the US Department of Energy, the price of Light Sweet Crude was USD 18.54 per barrel on 6 December 2001 soon after Wickeremesinghe assumed office, and it was USD 37.14 on 8 April 2004 soon after the Rata Perata government was installed. That is an increase of 36.1 percent. However during this same period, rate of inflation measured by CCPI annual average (to be consistent with comparative figures presented earlier) came down, repeat down, from 14.2 percent to 3.7 percent. The same data set reveals that as at 4 October 2005 the price of Light Sweet Crude was USD 63.00 a barrel; an increase of 62 percent since April 2004. But during this period inflation has gone back up not by an amount that can be justified, but by huge three and a half fold; from 3.7 percent to 12.8 percent using the same measure. The fact of the matter is that oil prices have been going up rather severely during both the Ranil Wickremesinghe regime and the Rata Perata regime. But the irony is that while the rate of increase of cost of living came down during the former, it went up dramatically and unjustifiably during the latter.

Better to be realistic than live in a make believe world!
What is ironic is the fact that during the UNP regime pump prices of fuel was adjusted almost every month to reflect changing global prices. Technically, this pass through was the right thing to do as it kept the inflation impacts to a one-off event every time prices were increased. Why the then government removed other targeted subsidies while passing through the oil prices is a political issue that I am not qualified to discuss here. But as opposed to the Wickremesinghe government, the Rata Perata government kept subsidizing the fuel prices in an attempt to control inflation which caused the widening of the deficit which then resulted in printing money that fed into much greater inflationary impacts until it got out of control. Only then did the government adjust prices; by which time the vicious cycle of supply push-demand pull inflation feeding mechanism had already started.

Incompetence is not an excuse
In conclusion it is clear that it is possible not just in other countries, but in our own, to hold the soaring cost of living even under increasing world oil price regimes. Not that oil prices do not have an impact; it sure does, but not one that is justifiable in the face of soaring inflation we are currently experiencing. The Ranil Wickremesinghe government had shown how it could be done, and almost every country in the Developing Asia has also been successful in maintaining single digit inflation.

The bottom line is there is no validity in the Samaraweera argument that it is not possible to control cost of living increases when the oil prices are increasing. In fact inflation measured on a point-to-point basis came down over the last few months even though oil prices continued to increase. And that was thanks to the price revisions at the pump and the Central Bank raising interest rates to control demand pull inflationary pressure after heavy criticism from many quarters. This reminds me of some of the television talk shows in which the JVP freshmen appeared in 2004. I remember them asking why we needed a government if it could not hold rising consumer prices just because oil prices were going up. They were right. They should ask themselves or the remnants of their Rata Perata regime that question. I honestly hope that the people of this country will not be made to suffer due to incompetence of politicians; be it with the Rajapakse camp or the Wickremesinghe camp.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

A Dry Zone green oasis

Daily News: 15/10/2005" BY CHANDANI Jayatilleke in Anuradhapura

SISIRA Kumara and his wife sit together in a tiny room in their brick house and sort out big onions, grade and pack them in bags of two different colours - the red bag for the Dambulla market and the white bag for Colombo.

Sisira and a group of other villagers of Poowarasankulama, a tiny hamlet in Anuradhapura district, have harvested a substantial yield of big onions this season.

They have also done away with middlemen and now transport their produce to the main markets by themselves.

During the big onion season, which runs for about two months in a particular kanna, these villagers send two lorries of onions to Colombo and Dambulla on a daily basis.

This is a clear indication of how farmers have gained much by cultivating a new crop, with the help of the Dry Zone Agricultural Development Project (DZADP) funded and implemented by the European Commission (EC) and Care International.

Following the arrival of the EC/Care project, the farmers of Poowarasankulama, a village about 10 kms away from the Anuradhapura town, organised themselves.

Interestingly, many members of the new organisation are women. In addition to their traditional housewives' and mothers' roles, these women are actively engaged in farming and agriculture, thanks to the EC project.

Sisira Kumara, one of the members of the Farmers' Organisation says, "Our farmers were educated on big onion cultivation through this project and we are immensely benefiting from this crop now."

They started in a small way but now they have a large area of about 60 acres.

"We were given training on farming and marketing. Now our focus is on market-oriented agriculture. And we have a fair knowledge of what crop should be cultivated in each season, depending on the water supply and the dry climate which prevails in this area," said a woman farmer.

As fertiliser, they use compost and cowdung. Chemicals are used only if necessary.

A few years ago, the villagers used to sell cowdung to traders for peanuts not realising the value of the organic fertiliser in their own agriculture.

"We used to sell cowdung to the traders, mostly from the North. But now we use it in our own farms," the woman farmer adds. The villagers have also built agri-wells. In addition, they get water from the Malwathu Oya.

The project has helped empower the villagers in many ways. "As we transport the harvest to Colombo and Dambulla on our own, and dispense with the middlemen, we make a reasonable profit," says Sisira.

Three years ago, this village had only about five two-wheel tractors. Now there are 44 and over 100 motor cycles. Because of the profit they made due to the focused farming and marketing concept, they could purchase more tractors and motorcycles.

Transport is a major issue for the villagers. They mostly use motor cycles and tractors.

Renuka Seneviratne - Production Assistant (Agriculture Research) who works closely with these farmers, said that she personally gained much through the project. "I am grateful to this program, I personally learnt a lot in farming and marketing.

This knowledge I have been sharing with the farmers in the village. I would be able to inspire many others in the future too," she adds. R.D. Vinitha, an Animator attached to the project, said she has developed a mango nursery and several other crops in her home garden.

"I got myself trained through this project. I learnt about various techniques in agriculture and remedies to issues such as soil erosion," she says.

Vinitha shares her knowledge with a large community. Even, schools in the area send their students to her nursery for education.

"People benefit a lot from my own experience," a proud Vinitha says.

Womens participation in these programs is much higher than mens in this village. At the same time they also play the role of housewife and mother. Their time management is remarkable indeed.

Under this project, EC and Care have chosen a marginalised and resourceless villages for development. In the implementation process, Care is being supported by various Government and non-governmental organisations.

The project which started in 1999, would be completed at the end of this year, benefiting 16,000 families.

We also visited Helambagaswewa, a remote village about 25 kms from the Anuradhapura town.

"This village was quite underdeveloped and its resources were minimal," says Chamila Jayashantha, Care Team Leader, Anuradhapura, of the DZADP.

The President of the Farmer Organisation in Helambagaswewa, Shaul Hameed, said their village did not have a farmers' organisation till 2003. Under the EC/Care project it got involved in a lot of projects. Eventually a farmers' organisation was formed. The young and the old have got together to fight for one cause, improved farming.

"Our village does not have much facilities for education, and we all ended up being farmers. Our children could not go for higher education as there were no facilities nearby. Agriculture was the only thing that we knew.

But unfortunately, we did not have sufficient water to continue farming," lamented Hameed. Under the EC/Care project, the village tank was renovated at a cost of Rs. 772,206, to which DZADP contributed Rs. 615,453. With the rehabilitation of the tank, the cultivable area was expanded to 45 acres.

During a training program, the farmers in the village developed the Integrated Watershed Management Plan for their tank. They have also started a special fund to be used in future tank maintenance work.

"But, the water is still to come. Although Anuradhapura was flooded after the monsoon last year, this village did not get sufficient rainfall to fill the tank," the villagers say.

At present, the villagers (all Muslims), cultivate corn, pumpkin, big onions, mango and paddy. Interestingly, many youth have taken to farming here, following the encouragement they got from Care officials. There are 38 members in the Farmers' Organisation, from the 35 families in the village.

"We want to develop the Farmers' Organisation into a much larger one by 2010," Hameed says.

There are 40 agri wells in the village now, but water for farming is still a problem.

"If the tank is full, the water can be used to cultivate about 90 acres and used for three months," says Hameed.

The village has no electricity. And people have to walk a few kilometres to get to the nearest bus stop. The dusty roads are in terrible condition. Probably no politician has visited this village except on a 'vote begging' mission.

Interestingly, the villagers speak both Sinhala and Tamil. This is because they learn in Sinhala in the village school and speak Tamil at home. The villagers have no objection to studying in Sinhala, because their children can learn two languages at the same time.

Next we visited a village called Baladakshamawatha, which is rather closer to Anuradhapura town, where women folks have taken the lead in constructing a Resource Centre.

The two storeyed centre has a library with information in agriculture. It has audio and video equipment and a facility to lend agricultural equipment to needy farmers. Needy farmers use the centre as a sales outlet for village produce.

The centre has a computer class and a montessori school too. It also conducts cultural shows. To construct the Resource Centre they got about Rs. 200,000 from the EC in two stages.

"But the villagers as a unit have done much more than that money could have done. With our human resource contributions, the building would cost about Rs. 750,000. All members in our families have done their maximum to put up the building," says Champika, one of the key persons who were in charge of the construction work.

"After Care came to this village, our people's attitudes have changed remarkably. And now everybody thinks of doing well in their livelihood and providing a good education to their children," Champika says. They have also purchased equipment to be lent to farmers who cannot afford to hire such equipment at the prevailing high rate.

However, water for agriculture is an issue in this village too. As a remedy, the villagers have begun to harvest rain water with the assistance of a community organisation.

Their Farmers' Organisation has 35 members, many of them are young women. K. Pathmasiri, President of the organisation said they were planning to find money to set up a rice mill so that they could start milling their paddy and selling rice at a better rate.

"If we are to sell paddy, we do not get a good price, although the Governments makes various promises," he says.

However, he adds that they need the state assistance to make this dream comes true.

In all these villages, we met men, women and children who have made great contributions to their own communities.

They face trying natural and man-made conditions, but they are winning the battle with the helping hand of the EC/Care project.

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Monday, October 17, 2005

Cheaper natural gas fired power goes waste

Daily Mirror: 15/10/2005" By Nisthar Cassim

US$ 365 m 300 MW project at Kerawalapitiya by Canada-US joint venture stuck allegedly due to CEB inaction

A landmark 300 MW natural gas fired power project proposed by a Canada-US joint venture that could offer cheaper electricity to the masses is stuck allegedly due to lack of serious interest to expedite it on the part of the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB).

The project mooted by Canada’s BPH International and US Allen Borough Energy envisages an investment of US$ 365 million to build a natural gas fired power plant at Kerawalapitiya on a Build, Own and Operate and Transfer (BOOT) on a 20 year basis.

The power produced by the venture was to cost US$ cents 0.58 (Rs. 5.80) per kWh in the first five years and a lower price of US cents of 0.575 per kWh in the remainder of 15 years. This is considered as cheap compared with high cost fuel sucking thermal generation. For example in May 2005, the thermal unit cost for CEB was Rs. 8.83. The tariff would remain unchanged irrespective of fluctuations in the world market oil prices while there is absolutely no liability on the part of the Government with regard to any expenditure or providing feedstock.

The Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) was to be used as feedstock to power the two machines and the project was also to be first of its kind.

The developers had also agreed to request from the Sri Lanka Ports Authority to build a separate terminal offshore at Kerawalapitiya at an additional cost of US$ 40 million apart from the initial project cost of US$ 325 million.

The proposal was first mooted to the Government in February this year and received preliminary blessings and approvals from the Ministry of Industrial Development, Investment Promotion as well as the Board of Investment. The Cabinet has also authorized the CEB to evaluate all new power projects which have received BOI approval and report the position to the Cabinet on an urgent basis.

Sources said that it has been over two months since the developers had submitted their proposal and draft Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) to the CEB but it had not even acknowledged their receipt apart from delaying the approval.

“The promoters have put on hold necessary financing and equipment pending finalization of the PPA,” sources added. The undue delay and alleged indifference on the part of CEB has been a frustrating experience for the Canadian and US joint venture.

It was maintained that the saving to CEB from this ground breaking project would be between Rs. Rs. 7.7 billion and Rs. 10 billion per year or Rs. 2.93 and Rs. 3.77 per unit when compared with CEB as well as private sector generated electricity.

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Sunday, October 16, 2005

Construction sector urged to focus on sustainability

Daily Mirror: 11/10/2005" By Kelum Bandara

Dean of the Engineering Faculty of the Moratuwa University Prof. Ananda Jayawardane told the Daily Mirror FT in an exclusive interview, that construction projects should be carried out with minimum impact on the environment when using materials like sand, clay, water, aggregates and others.

A top engineer last week urged that the country’s construction sector should focus attention on sustainability in their development projects by resorting to cost-effective and environment friendly technology in the construction industry.

Dean of Engineering Faculty at the Moratuwa University Prof. Ananda Jayawardane told the Daily Mirror FT in an exclusive interview, that construction projects should be carried out with minimum impact on the environment when using materials like sand, clay, water, aggregates and others.

Prof. Jayawardane said that sea sand was utilized mostly in the construction industry now because sand mining in rivers caused environmental hazards.

“Sand obtained from beach sides can be salty because of its constant exposure to sea water, and therefore it is not suitable for the industry. However, the salt content in sand deposits in the seabed is less than those found on the beach. It is also suitable for constructions. And using sand deposits in the seabed can be an environmentally-friendly solution,” he said.

Recent researches had found that the salt content up to a certain level in sand does not have long-term adverse effects on constructions. He said that sand dunes found on land could also be used for constructing buildings after a washing process, and it would reduce environmental hazards. The university has invented blocks called rammed earth, which he cited as a cost-effective method to build houses.

“These blocks are made by compressing earth. A certain amount of sand and cement can also be used for the mixture to strengthen blocks further. This is an ideal solution for building houses with a single floor,” he said.

Referring to the gold award winning construction at the recently held Holcim Awards Ceremony in Beijing, China for the Asia-Pacific region, he said that the scheme successfully demonstrates how urban spaces can be integrated within the texture of traditional neighbourhoods without demolishing it completely, thus raising awareness of the importance of sustainability. Also convincing is the ethically sensitive engagement with local residents in order to gain insight into the extended families.

With acute attention given to cultural as well as contextual factors, the project raised the standards of social and physical space. Ecologically, the project offers important lessons in energy conservation by existing conditions, the use of local materials and cost-effective detailing. By proposing to reduce the consumption of material resources and pursue the regenerative capacities of design, the project provides sound evidence of how to achieve an economic balance. In addition, the scheme has relevance in showing how heritage can be conceived as an aesthetic asset in the development of a contemporary expression of urban environments.

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