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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, December 17, 2005

Conference on Sri Lanka studies

Daily News: 09/12/2005"

The 10th International Conference on Sri Lankan Studies (ICSLS), a bi-annual meeting of scholars researching on historical, socio-economic, cultural and political aspects of Sri Lanka will be held from December 16 to 18.

The event organised by the Kelaniya University will attract a large number of scholars from all parts of the world who are studying various aspects of the past and contemporary Sri Lankan society, Prof. Siripala Hettige of the Kelaniya University Social Sciences Department said.

Addressing the media at the Government Information Department Prof. Hettige said this year's Conference to be held in the Kelaniya University has been organised under the theme 'Sri Lanka after Five Hundred Years of Western Colonisation and Future Perspectives".

"Papers will be invited from a variety of fields including anthropology, archaeology, architecture, defence studies, demography, economics, ethnic studies, fine arts, media studies and sociology. Over 250 papers have been submitted for the conference this year," he said adding that it would be the largest gathering of social scientists in Sri Lanka so far.

The ICSLS was founded in 1987 in the United Kingdom with a gathering of 25 scholars in the University of Sussex. The 'Sri Lanka Studies Network' of the conference was founded at the ninth ICSLS conference in 2003.

The conference will be inaugurated on December 16 by Education Minister Susil Premjayantha.

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On the train tracks in Sri Lanka, life does move on

USA Today: 08/12/2005" By Paul Wiseman,

PERALIYA, Sri Lanka — The sea shimmers to the west as the train rattles north toward Colombo. It passes a Christian cemetery, fields where grazing cattle listlessly watch boys in white uniforms play cricket, and crumpled shacks unrepaired nearly a year after the waves came.

Three of the eight coaches of the Colombo-Matara train have been set up on unused track in Peraliya in honor of the dead.

This is the same track that carried more than 1,000 passengers and railway workers to their deaths when the Dec. 26 tsunami hit a stopped eight-car commuter train here — one tragedy among many on a day when more than 216,000 people are believed to have died across southern Asia.

Now, vendors walk the aisles offering their wares in singsong voices. Namal Paranavithana, 35, settles back in his seat. He's on his way from his home in Matara, about 40 miles south of here, to his job as a criminal investigator in a government office in Colombo, a trip he makes every two days.

Yet whenever the train passes Peraliya, he pauses a moment to remember the day, Dec. 26, and the dead. He wasn't on the train when it was swamped here. He had business north of Colombo. But like most Sri Lankans, he has losses to grieve. An aunt and uncle died on the train. At home in Matara, the tsunami carried away his son — his only child — who was 7.

In honor of the dead, three of the tsunami-battered train's eight coaches have been set up on unused track in Peraliya. It has become a makeshift shrine. Meanwhile, the restored railway line along Sri Lanka's southwestern coast has become a testament to the living.

Defying skeptics in the government and setting aside a history of bitter disputes, rail workers and their managers came together to get the trains running again in just 57 days. It was a symbolic triumph for this shattered country, and a practical one, too: 77,000 Sri Lankans, many commuting from jobs in the south to the capital, Colombo, take the train each way daily.

As the first anniversary of the tsunami approaches, the state-run railway's success stands in sharp contrast to Sri Lanka's overall reconstruction and particularly its efforts to house the half-million people left homeless by the tsunami. Red tape and political squabbling have left tens of thousands of Sri Lankans living in temporary wooden shelters, awaiting permanent housing.

The return of rail service "was a marvelous achievement," says Lalithasiri Gunaruwan, a University of Colombo economics lecturer and an adviser to the railroad during the reconstruction. "It's a showcase. If 130 kilometers (80 miles) of railroad track can be reconstructed in 57 days, six months should be sufficient to finish housing."

'People were running in fear'

The Colombo-to-Matara coastal train was running on time when it reached this southern village at about 9:20 on the morning of Dec. 26.

Sri Lankan trains typically run late and erratically, but on that morning the 50-year-old Canadian-built General Motors locomotive was being piloted by one of the rail line's best engineers: Janaka Fernando. Just a couple of days earlier, Fernando had been recognized for his excellence: He had been picked to take a special train from Colombo to the east coast town of Batticaloa to inaugurate a new railway timetable.

But something was wrong the morning after Christmas. The train suddenly stopped in this village, a mile north of the resort town of Hikkaduwa on the southwestern coast. The engineer awaited a green light that never came. Weddkial Chandrasiri Silva, 54, was riding in a small compartment just behind the train's engine; he and two other rail workers were on their way to deliver spare parts to a crew laboring on the track south of Hikkaduwa.

They didn't know an earthquake off the Indonesian island of Sumatra 2½ hours earlier had sent a tsunami rolling toward Sri Lanka.

Suddenly, water began seeping into the carriage, Silva recalls: "People on the train started shouting. As the water rolled in, we heard a sound. The carriage behind us toppled over and lodged against a tree. Bodies were floating. People were running in fear. We minded our own business and stayed in the compartment."

The water began to recede. Passengers stayed dry in the train; villagers clambered aboard to seek refuge from the water. Then, "Somebody shouted, 'There's another wave coming.' And I looked out." Silva saw a wave 25 to 30 feet high. "The water was completely black. It was like a mountain moving toward us." The raging water pulled Silva out the window, up and over the top of the train. He was swept along, bobbing up and down, swallowing water, trying to find something secure to hold on to. "I got banged against lots of things," he says.

Silva figures the water carried him a half-mile inland before he managed to grab a tree. He made his way to a Buddhist temple on high ground and then to a hospital, where an overworked doctor, unimpressed with his aches, gave him painkillers and sent him on his way. After hours on foot and buses, he arrived at his home in Payagala, south of Colombo, around midnight. He later learned that his two colleagues, men he had known for 15 years, had died in the train along with engineer Fernando and more than 1,000 others.

Within days he was back on the track, working to get the trains running again.

Obstacles ahead

Sri Lankan officials originally figured it would take foreign expertise, at least six months and tens of millions of dollars to get the trains running again along the route from Colombo to Matara, on the island's southern tip.

Priyal de Silva, the general manager of Sri Lanka's state-run railways, disagreed. He'd seen worse: In 1957, massive floods tore up Sri Lanka's railways. De Silva, then 10 years old, had tagged along while his father, a senior railroad engineer, inspected the destruction.

"I knew (the tsunami damage) could be repaired in two to three months because my father had repaired greater damage in four months," de Silva says. "I was confident. I told the government I could do it in three months."

The railroad's achievement is even more remarkable because it occurred despite:

• A history of conflict between the railroad's management and the hard-line Marxist union that represents its 17,000 workers.

• A shortage of supplies, money and material.

• The fact that many of those repairing the line were themselves recovering from injuries and grieving lost loved ones.

• The opposition of top-level bureaucrats who were convinced Sri Lankans couldn't do the job themselves.

Union general secretary Sumathipala Manawadu, speaking in union offices in Colombo below portraits of Lenin and Marx, concedes that Sri Lankan "trade unions have a bad name for trying to get their workers benefits without caring for the general public." The union had led a 14-day rail strike in January 2004 and had been threatening another when the tsunami hit.

After the water receded, the union decided it had a duty to the nation and an opportunity to improve rail workers' image. The union mobilized 1,000 volunteers to clear the tracks — crucial work that let engineers assess the damage and figure out what to do. Three days after the tsunami, they had removed bodies, fallen trees and other debris, former rail adviser Gunaruwan says.

"They had identified us as an inefficient, lazy lot," union leader Manawadu says. "We always wanted to prove that if we had good leadership we could work."

De Silva divided the ravaged track between Kalutara and Matara into four sections and ordered repair work to begin on all of them simultaneously. The thinking: progress could continue even if work on one section got bogged down by something difficult such as replacing a damaged bridge.

Every Sunday, de Silva met his senior engineers in a track-side bungalow to assess the progress. They set a public deadline of April 13,the traditional Sri Lankan new year, to restore rail service from Colombo to Matara; privately, they meant to finish a lot faster.

De Silva's superiors at the Transportation Ministry were skeptical. They wanted to raise money from international donors such as the United Nations and the World Bank and hire foreign engineering firms to do the job. But the railway management and workers were determined to reconstruct the railway themselves. "If they had given it to foreign institutions, we knew from experience that a lot of money would be wasted and lost to corruption," Manawadu says.

To avoid spending money on new railroad ties and other parts, rail workers dug into the muck to salvage old parts buried 2 feet deep by the tsunami. They often worked from dawn until well into the night. Sometimes they took a bus back to a makeshift camp at a school in Ambalangoda, 50 miles south of Colombo. Sometimes they camped out where they were working.

"Everyone pitched in," says railroad laborer Kumara Wadu Prasama Priyal, 42. "We couldn't be happy because we kept seeing dead bodies, but we kept on working. ... Even the officials didn't pull rank. ... Usually, the higher officers don't do as much work, (but) they stayed by our sides without eating or drinking."

A key obstacle was a damaged bridge outside Kalutara, the first major town south of Colombo. The tsunami had washed away the embankment, leaving the bridge isolated in the middle of a river. Laborers painstakingly replaced the embankment by hand, filling in the gap with boulders.

The rail adviser, Gunaruwan, was attending a Buddhist ceremony when his cellphone rang Jan. 7 to bring him the news: The bridge had been repaired and the first train was on its way from Colombo to Kalutara; the first link had been completed. "I rode back to Colombo on that train," he says. "That gave us a boost. It showed that things can get done."

Even as the progress continued, top government finance officials wanted to hand the job to foreigners. De Silva pleaded with them: "I have already made the cake. Let me finish the icing." Finally, they relented.

The entire track was completed Feb. 21, 57 days after work had begun. Now, like the rest of Sri Lanka, where at least 35,000 people died in the tsunami, things aren't exactly back to normal on the railway. Repairs are still needed. The track isn't as solid as it was before the tsunami. So the trains are running at reduced speed — 38 miles an hour, down from 50 miles an hour, de Silva says. But they are running.

A makeshift shrine

On a typical day, 300 visitors stop by Peraliya to inspect the battered carriages and remember those who died here. Children climb inside, ignoring the signs warning visitors to stay away. Another sign declares: "Attention! Do not give money to schoolchildren. They will avoid school and beg here."

The shrine has become a local commercial enterprise. A snake charmer sits cross-legged near the main road; he has a dancing money, too — performances available for a tip. A gap-toothed man sells 10-cent ice cream cones from the back of his motorcycle. A local Buddhist temple has set up a booth to raise money for the village, which lost more than 300 people.

Former rail adviser Gunaruwan wishes the shrine had never been built. "I think it was a mistake," he says. "We did not want to see the carriages packed up as a museum. They are rotting and rusting there."

He says the three carriages should have been repaired like the other five and returned to service as a "running museum" and a symbol of human determination in the face of massive natural calamity.

"We have raised our hand up to the tsunami," he says. "The train is not a ghost. It is alive."

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Tsunami Impacts on Shallow Groundwater and Associated Water Supply on the East Coast of Sri Lanka

Executive Summary

The major tsunami of December 26, 2004 that hit many South Asian countries bordering the Bay of Bengal severely devastated the coastal regions of Sri Lanka. A key concern is the nature and extent of the tsunami impact on the water supply and, in more general, the water resources of these areas.

In the coastal areas of Eastern Sri Lanka, the majority of the population, which is rural or semi-urban, is relying on groundwater for their domestic and agricultural activities, most predominantly through traditional private shallow open dug wells in the sandy aquifers. As the tsunami destroyed practically all wells within the reach of the flood waves, access to freshwater for these people was suddenly cut off and interim alternatives had to be sought urgently in the form of freshwater trucked in from unaffected areas.

Soon after the tsunami, massive efforts to clean the wells were initiated from a range of different actors in an attempt to rapidly return the water supply to normal conditions, or at least ameliorate the immediate impacts of the salinization of the wells. Based on indications that these efforts were un-coordinated, inadequate, inefficient and at the extreme harmful to the water quality and the well functioning, IWMI set in at various levels to try and guide and coordinate these efforts.

With the aim to assess and document the extent of the damages and the immediate and intermediate term impacts of the tsunami on groundwater and associated water supply, a field monitoring program was initiated in March 2005 (2.5 month after the tsunami) in three areas on the east coast (Kallady, Kaluthavalai, and Oluvil, in Batticaloa and Ampara District). A total of approximately 150 wells were selected within approx. 2 km distance from the coastline covering both affected and non-affected wells. Salinity, groundwater level, and turbidity were monitored on a regular basis, with from 20 to 40 days interval.

In addition, salinity levels in sea and lagoon water were measured. Results indicate that 39 % of the wells had been flooded by the tsunami, with the flooding being more severe in the two most northern sites (49 % in both Kallady and Kaluthavalai), as compared to the last site (21 % in Oluvil). This pattern could be explained by the way the waves had come in and had been received by the land complex.

Salinity levels in flooded wells decreased significantly from the estimated levels at the time of the tsunami (29,400 μS/cm) till the start of the monitoring (3200 μS/cm). This can be explained by the rainfall that occurred shortly after the tsunami and the rapid dissipation and mixing of intruding seawater with pre-tsunami fresh groundwater and potentially the well cleaning effects. As time passed, average salinity levels in flooded wells decreased only slowly, until the end of the study period (middle of July), when the average salinity was 2600 μS/cm. The slower decrease can be attributed to the unset of the dry season and the slower mixing and dissipation mechanisms as concentration gradients decreased. Non-flooded wells showed an opposite trend with salinity levels slightly increasing during the dry season (from 890 to 1090 μS/cm), a generally encountered phenomenon. Hence, seven months after the tsunami, flooded wells had higher average salinity level than background, non-flooded wells, indicating that the groundwater still had not recovered fully from the tsunami, and that at least one more rainy season was required to flush the system and restore the aquifers to pre-tsunami conditions.

Based on a drinking water salinity acceptance threshold derived from the actual use of the wells, it was found that a large fraction of the flooded wells (between 67 and 100 % in the three sites), and even wells not flooded (between 17 and 50 %) were not suitable for drinking at the end of the study period. This indicates that people in the areas had become accustomed to the alternative water sources supplied by various relief organizations, because background, non-flooded wells did not show increased salinity relative to pretsunami conditions and people generally were relying on the well supply for drinking water prior to the tsunami.

Guidelines for well cleaning and groundwater protection and general awareness raising and information sharing was a significant part of the project, and it is believed that the activities involved had an impact on the approach to well cleaning in the affected areas, by drawing attention to the potential problems involved, by linking various actors and by disseminating the knowledge and results generated in the project.

Download the full report at
or at

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Friday, December 16, 2005

Revamping research management to boost plantation performance

Daily News: 07/12/2005" by Dr. N. Yogaratnam

Plantation crops research institutions, the nodal public sector research and development agency in Sri Lanka are now faced with the daunting task of maintaining their traditional glory and rendering the much needed assistance to over come the industry's current problems and to meet it's long term goals.

The global developments also indicate that Sri Lanka is no longer in the forefront of plantation crops research. Most producing countries are now well enriched with their own research efforts. These indications of a setback trend now seen in Sri Lanka require reversing through appropriate changes in research policy and management.

This is one of the tasks before industry leaders and policy makers engaged in the country's prime agro-asset. It is generally accepted that where the state has too great an involvement in the provision of goods and services that would be more efficiently undertaken by the private sector, transfer of management of such services will not be counter productive.

What is contemplated is the transfer of only the management of the state owned institutions from the public sector to the private sector for greater effectiveness. More pointedly, promotion of public - private sector partnership to jointly develop the plantation industry.

Thrust research areas
Productively improvements, product diversification/value addition and cost control are the three macro-level features for the plantation crop scenario with particular reference to their research dimensions.

Bridging the yield gaps that exist between the current experimental yields in the region of 5000 kg / ha, 3500 kg / ha and 10,000 nuts/ha for tea, rubber and coconut respectively and the likely maximum yield potential (theoretical perspective) of about 15,000 kg/ha, 10,000 kg/ha and 25,000 nuts/ha for tea, rubber and coconut respectively, over the next ten years should be the foremost research efforts, besides increasing the share in product diversification/ value addition.

While labour wages and cost of imported materials are bound to rise, the extent to which they could be neutralised in terms of unit cost of production through a combination of improved agricultural practices, optimising key inputs and mechanization of field and factory operations where possible are the challenges before the plantation industry.

Re-organisation and policy issues
With privatised management of plantations and limited privatisation of training of plantations personnel, initially at least a limited privatisation should be considered. That part of the institutions which could be meaningfully privatised is its management.

If a total privatisation is planned, it would be counter - productive. Because of the system of cess collection and treasury grants, these Institutions are some of the best funded research institutions in the country and it would be a retrograde step if this arrangement were to be disrupted and an alternative substituted involving a voluntary subscription from plantation management companies, the inflow of which would fluctuate with the fortunes of the industry and the individual managements perception of the gains resulting from remaining within the Institution's present network.

The limited privatisation suggested could be achieved, first, by making appropriate changes in the composition of the Boards, and second, by giving the Board more autonomy and subjecting it to only such minimal controls are necessary by the Government in the changed situation.

Basically, the changes contemplated are two fold: first, the office of the Chairman who should have administrative, scientific and industry orientation (to ensure internal check) but appointed by the Minister (to establish external check) and second, the other members who should, to the extent possible, be nominated by representative organizations relevant to the crop involved, so as to be aware of the challenges to their respective industry/sector.

The present composition of the Boards requires reconsideration. More scientific and private sector representations, covering areas of research specific to the crops concerned is important. This would enable the Board to provide support and guidance to the Directors on matters pertaining to research specific to the crop. CARP being represented by it's director in not the answer.

CARP is more concerned with arable crops than plantations. In any event, the changed situation will offer a greater degree of counselling on industry affairs to the Government by the Institutes.

The need to invest the Boards with more delegatory powers can hardly be over emphasised. In effect, it should be well within the competence of the Boards to decide and take action on all functions listed under its power without reference to the Ministry.

However, in order to ensure that the powers so invested are not misused or the decisions taken could have adverse repercussions in parallel institutions, a provision could be incorporated into the Act to enable the Minister to withhold, suspend or annul any decision of the Board.

Internal restructuring
Making allowances for a higher requirement and activity at the headquarters of these institutes may seem disproportionate to the developments in the country where plantation crop production are distributed at different elevations/regions.

To that extent, regional needs and aspirations have to be met which could be done by strengthening regional activities. Each region should independently deal with range of regional issues, undertake location-specific investigations and adaptive trials and work closely with the respective regional organizations unless problems that crop-up are so complex as to require intervention by specialist scientists from the Headquarters.

Expectations were that estates under the management of the Institutes would serve as models for emulation by the industry. This had not happened and it is reported that several of the practices adopted by them are at variance with those recommended by the research Institutes.

Moreover, the purpose of linking these estates with the research institutes had also been to (i) layout field and factory experiments (ii) Serve as testing ground for the Institutes' recommendations and (iii) Generate a surplus for plough back into research. This has also not happened effectively.

It is therefore worth while considering the desirability of entering into a research contract with some established plantation management companies initially for a period of 5 years or so on a pre-determined agenda and cost to ensure the scientists the freedom to undertake research trials with no disability with regard to land, labour materials etc.

These estates many function as the Regional Research Centres for the research institutes. Apart from negating any academic bias that could otherwise have penetrated under the exiting arrangements, this would also provide the opportunity to view research programmes in wider perspective. Interaction with the industry from the very inception would bring the scientists to the practical requirements of the growers.

The foremost asset of the Institutes is its' pool scientists and it is their collective effort that makes or breaks their reputation.

All researchers are assisted in no small measure by the management to be well qualified. The laboratory and equipment are also in good order to render an output commensurate with the needs of the industry.

Yet, it is well known that the full potential of scientists remain unutilised in the absence of participatory approach to fulfil the overall objectives of the Institutes. Leadership and motivation and aspects which will bring the scientists to the practical requirement of the working planter should be explored.

With greater compartmentalization of research, rapid proliferation of experiments and too many bureaucratic directives, the role of the Director has now tended to become more of a coordinator than a leader of a team of scientists. Irrespective of whether such a situation exists elsewhere, this primary function and responsibility must be returned to these Institutes and their Directors who are Chief Executive Officers to provide dynamism and leadership to future research efforts.

Cost-benefit of research
In the ultimate analysis, the issue centres around the extent to which the plantation industry - and indeed, the country - benefits from the operations of these Institutes. During the post-war period it was noted that on certain research outputs, the gain in output until late '60s resulted in an overall cost benefit ratio of 1 : 100.

Not that such a fancy return is ever contemplated but in the current or emerging situation, judging by the parameters established in agricultural research, the plantation industry would be more than satisfied with internal rate of return of 40 to 50 percent on its' investment on research.

It is important to recognize that irrespective of the channel through which the research share of the cess is collected and disbursed, it nevertheless forms part of the industry's cost of production.

This clearly points to an emerging financial crunch and while this has descended on some institutes and yet to descend on others, it is important to take early action. Looking ahead into the present century and beyond, it is suggested that a revised funding concept is mooted and given effect to appropriately for the Sri Lankan plantation industry to move forward.

Based on the emerging needs of the plantation industry, improvements to the conventional style of research management have been discussed with the singular purpose of enhancing the usefulness of the research findings to the industry, a vital factor in the economy of the country.

The writer is a Consultant, National Institute of Plantation Management

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BB- and B+ rating for Lanka from Fitch and S&P

Daily Mirror: 09/12/2005" Long term outlook stable – Fitch

Sri Lanka’s first sovereign rates of BB- and B+ from Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor's Ratings(S&P) Services were announced yesterday just before the budget 2006 presentation with its proposals to issue foreign currency bonds.

Fitch ratings gave long-term foreign and local currency ratings of 'BB-' (BB minus), while assigning the country a Short-term foreign currency rating of 'B'.

According to Dow Jones reports this rating is shared by countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia, Turkey, and Brazil. Meanwhile, S&P rated Sri Lanka one notch lower, at B+, while it also gave Sri Lanka's short-term foreign-currency B, and long-term local-currency BB-.

Treasury Secretary Dr. P.B. Jayasundara noted that the ratings were “quite encouraging” and welcomed the fresh perspective from “transparent , market oriented rating agencies,” in addition to the donor community view on Sri Lanka’s creditworthiness.

Economic Advisor to the President and the Secretary of the Ministry of Plan Implementation Ajith Cabral noted that while steps were on the way to improve Sri Lanka’s ratings, the current ones was a positive start.

However, Asian Development Bank Country Director Alessandro Pio noted that while the ratings provide Sri Lanka an opportunity to tap into diverse international finance sources, borrowings need to be done cautiously, to ensure that debt servicing will not become a burden.

“Sri Lanka has proved resilient to adverse shocks over a long period of time, its institutions are strong and it has an unblemished debt service record," Fitch Sovereign team Senior Director Paul Rawkins said yesterday. "However, weighing in the balance are concerns about public debt sustainability, weak coalition governments that have impeded fiscal consolidation and the absence of an enduring solution to a long-running civil conflict,” he added.

"Peace and politics hold the key to Sri Lanka's future," Mr. Rawkins said. "The ceasefire agreement has produced tangible benefits in the shape of an improved economic and business climate, but the absence of an enduring peace continues to hang over the country, intruding into the everyday business of government and the longer-term commitment to economic reform." He added that a fresh outbreak of full-scale hostilities would be very damaging for the rating, not least because the public finances are so much weaker than they were and external financial assistance could be put at risk if donors lost confidence in the peace process.

According to Fitch the main constraints on the rating are the fragile security situation and weak public finances. Fitch acknowledges the recent deterioration in the security situation, immediately after the presidential election causing some turbulence in local financial markets. Nonetheless, Sri Lanka's BB- rating incorporates a potentially volatile security situation and Fitch still expects the 2002 ceasefire agreement to hold, especially given the increased focus of the international community on the peace process. If the violence to become more widespread, however, Fitch warns that the adverse impact on the economic and business environment would bring downward pressure on Sri Lanka's ratings.

With respect to public finances, Fitch expects a gradual reduction in the public debt burden over the medium-term reflecting the low effective interest rate on government debt and relatively strong economic growth. However, given current debt levels, there is little room for maneuver for an easing official policy. Conversely, faster than expected progress in terms of fiscal consolidation and in securing a final peace settlement would support an improvement in Sri Lanka's creditworthiness and ratings.

"A key support for the rating is Sri Lanka's impeccable sovereign debt service record, an attribute which is rare among sub-investment grade countries," Mr. Rawkins said. This record owes much to the favourable structure of Sri Lanka's external debt, most of which has been extended on highly concessional terms.

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Thursday, December 15, 2005

New Scientific Findings Shed Light on Potential Danger for the West Coast of the United States


(Silver Spring, Md.) —Discovery Channel’s original special, AMERICA’S TSUNAMI: ARE WE NEXT?, premiering in the U.S. on Sunday, December 18, at 9 PM (ET/PT), reveals new geological evidence that seafloor uplift from the 9.2 magnitude Great Sumatra earthquake – not a giant underwater landslide as previously thought – caused the devastating December 26, 2004, Asian tsunami. The groundbreaking Indian Ocean expedition and new scientific findings enabled scientists to use data to improve computer-generated tsunami wave models and better predict the next tsunami wave.

Specifically, scientists point to the northwest region of the United States (northern California and coastal areas of Oregon and Washington) as being most at risk for a tsunami event because its fault lines are a mirror image of those in the Indian Ocean subduction zone. Scientists estimate that tsunami events happen every 200 to 400 years on the West Coast – the last occurred on January 26, 1700 – and with a fault line located just 50 miles off the coast along the Cascadia Subduction Zone, this region is thought to be the next target, with potential waves as high as 90 feet.

AMERICA’S TSUNAMI: ARE WE NEXT? follows an international team of 27 scientists led by Dr. Kate Moran from the University of Rhode Island. The distinguished team quickly mobilized last May and was the first team to reach the tsunami epicenter. Using state-of-the-art camera equipment, the special shows never-before-seen footage of the epicenter and the massive and dramatic geologic changes that caused gigantic waves.

“We are proud to provide the resources enabling the leading experts to explore scientific phenomena quickly and accurately while also immersing viewers in a part of the world they have never seen before. It is our hope that AMERICA’S TSUNAMI: ARE WE NEXT? helps advance efforts in gaining a greater understanding of last year’s tsunami and in predicting future destruction,” said Jane Root, executive vice president and general manager, Discovery Channel U.S.

AMERICA’S TSUNAMI: ARE WE NEXT?, funded by Discovery Channel, the BBC and ProSieben, is a special presentation of Discovery Channel QUEST, an initiative designed to inspire and fund projects spearheaded by scientists and explorers who are at the vanguard of their fields. Their research activities will be chronicled in landmark television specials that capture the toil, genius, setbacks and exhilaration that are the lifeblood of the search for knowledge.

Cascadia extends from northern California to the peninsula of British Columbia and is an exact mirror image geologically to the Indian Ocean subduction zone where the December 2004 tsunami occurred. Using new data and improved models from the expedition, scientists predict a tsunami three times the size of current estimates.

AMERICA’S TSUNAMI: ARE WE NEXT? is an original production produced for Discovery Channel by Darlow Smithson, broadcast on Discovery Channel in the U.S., on BBC One in the U.K. and ProSieben in Germany. For Discovery Channel, Peter Lovering is the executive producer. A version of this special will air in international markets at a later date.

Discovery Communications is the leading global real-world media and entertainment company. Discovery has grown from its core property, the Discovery Channel, first launched in the United States in 1985, to current global operations in more than 160 countries and territories with 1.3 billion cumulative subscribers. DCI’s over 90 networks of distinctive programming represent 25 network entertainment brands. DCI’s other properties consist of Discovery Education and Discovery Commerce, which operates 120 Discovery Channel Stores. DCI also distributes BBC America in the United States. DCI’s ownership consists of four shareholders: Discovery Holding Company (NASDAQ: DISCA, DISCB), Cox Communications, Inc., Advance/Newhouse Communications and John S. Hendricks, the Company’s Founder and Chairman.

For additional details please visit
America's Tsunami: Discovery Channel Special

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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Reaching standards - enhancing the quality of teachers

Daily News: 06/12/2005" by Prof. Raja Gunawardhane

In the recent past thousands of graduates have been recruited as 'teachers' for Sri Lankan schools. It is a progressive step that has been taken by the Government to solve the graduate unemployment problem in Sri Lanka. However, solving the unemployment problem is one side of the story.

While considering the prevailing political and economic demands it is also necessary to have a permanent policy for teacher recruitment which should be based on needs of the education system and the recent developments of the modern technology relevant to classroom teaching. It is high time to reformulate the teacher-recruitment policies with the objective of providing a standard education to the future generation.

It is an unfortunate situation that 'teaching' is not considered as a profession in Sri Lanka. Many of us, even our 'academics' cannot understand the gravity of the problem that arises as a result of untrained personnel. They think that anyone who has subject knowledge can become a teacher.

Teaching is a creative, intellectually demanding and rewarding job. In developed countries no one can go to a classroom and teach without a 'teaching licence'. A teacher in UK should obtain 'Qualified Teacher Status' (QTS) to enter the teaching profession. Secretary of State for Education and Skills, in U.K., Rt. Chales Clarke, in his introduction to the circular (2003) 'Qualifying to Teach' states, "Teaching is one of the most influential professions in society".

In their day-to-day work, teachers can and do make huge differences to children's lives: directly through the curriculum they teach, and indirectly, through their behaviour, attitudes, values, relationships with and interest in pupils".

He further states that teaching involves more than care, mutual respect and well-placed optimism. It demands knowledge and practical skills, the ability to make informed judgements, and to balance pressures and challenges, practice and creativity, interest and effort, as well as an understanding of how children learn and develop.

Qualified Teacher Status' (QTS) is the first stage in a continuum of professional development that will continue through the induction period and throughout a teacher's career. Initial training given for all new recruits in UK lays the foundation for subsequent professional and career development. Initial Teacher Training (ITT) is very important for all newly recruited teachers.

They can build on the strengths identified in this ITT period, and work on the areas, which they have highlighted as priorities for future professional development. The training they obtain during this period helps them to play an active role in their early professional development and performance management.

There are standards for the award of Qualified Teacher Status. They are stated as outcome statements that set out what a trainee teacher must know, understand and be able to do. The Standards are organized in three inter-related sections, which describe the criteria for the award. The first section is the 'Professional Value and Practice' which includes eight statements. Teachers should respect social, cultural, linguistic, religious and ethnic backgrounds of pupils.

They are committed to raising their educational achievement. Teachers should demonstrate and promote the positive values, attitudes and behaviour that they expect from pupils. In the second section, it is stated that teachers should be confident and authoritative in the subjects they teach. In the third section it is stated that teachers are expected to gain skills of planning, monitoring and assessment, and teaching and class management.

These Standards ensure that all new teachers have the subject knowledge and the teaching and learning expertise they need, and are well prepared for the wider professional demands of being a teacher. They will also help to ensure that training tackles issues such as behaviour management and social inclusion as well. These standards are a rigorous set of expectations and set out the minimum legal requirement.

Recruitment of graduates for the Teachers' Service in Sri Lanka is a progressive step that has been taken by the Government. These newly recruited graduates have at least a three year degree which certifies the subject knowledge needed for the teaching profession. But the recruitment system is unethical and irregular.

How can we say that all these graduates are competent in teaching ? Teaching is a professional job and we need professionals to go to the classroom and teach. Was there a system of checking whether they can talk or whether they hear properly ? It is very unfortunate to have system of recruiting persons through a list names prepared by officials who do not have any idea of the qualities and aptitudes necessary for teachers.

Major factors that can be identified as being contributory towards the decline in educational standards have been the haphazard recruitment of teachers in a large scale. It is essential in future to have a permanent policy of teacher recruitment. Obtaining a Bachelors degree from a university does not certify that they are competent in teaching.

It is essential to test aptitude for teaching at the entry level. What happens today is we recruit individuals in a large scale without any assessment of their aptitude and permit them to follow teacher training courses in training institutions. Providers of teacher training face unexpected difficulties in training them. Training instructors of our postgraduate diploma courses complain that some student teachers lack communication skills. Some are not competent in using their own language for addressing a small group of pupils.

Secondly, all persons admitted to the teaching service should have a proper training. Unless they obtain a real teacher training from an accepted teacher educator it is unethical to consider them as 'teachers'.

Plunging teachers into classroom without proper induction has been found to be generally counter-productive and in some cases, has proven to be quite traumatic for newly certified teachers. In the conventional system of education in which subject knowledge and rote learning were considered important, teachers without any orientation to the principles of child psychology and educational methodology were able to transmit bookish knowledge.

In the secondary school curriculum, the emphasis is on projects, self learning, hands-on experiences and learning by doing. Unless the untrained teachers undergo a long-term, well-planned, training programme we cannot expect them to perform effectively at the classroom level.

The number of teachers within the school system stands at 186,015 (as at 2004). This number includes trained graduates, untrained graduates, trained teachers, and untrained teachers. There were 52,176 graduates (28 percent) in 2004 and now this number has increased.

One third of the teachers in Sri Lankan schools are graduates, however, all these graduates cannot be considered as 'teachers' because majority of them have not undergone a proper teacher training. A recent publication of the Ministry of Education 'Education for development and prosperity' (2005) states that graduates entering the teaching field are provided orientation immediately after recruitment and thereafter, may obtain a diploma in education as a professional qualification. These short-term training programmes are inadequate to make a fully professionally qualified teacher.

It is important to note that graduates who wish to follow these graduate training courses apply on their own and the education authorities are not very much concerned about the postgraduate training provided by universities. It is essential to have a formal postgraduate teacher training for all graduates before they are deployed as 'professional teachers'. Training opportunities should be provided for them through recognised teacher training institutes.

It is timely to revise the curricular, content, and the structure of the graduate training programmes conducted by the universities. The reforms of the past decade brought immense improvements in the quality of graduate training programmes available at universities.

In addition to the traditional subjects information technology has been introduced to the teacher training courses. Most students are keen to develop their competency in information technology, both in terms of personal skills in ICT, and in terms of the use of ICT in the classroom. For a variety of reasons, not all student teachers get as far as they would wish towards mastery of the various facets of ICT capability.

The most effective way to learn ICT is to have lots of 'hands-on' practice and one to one tuition, but there are difficulties - inadequate facilities and resource persons, for achieving this target.

It is timely to restructure the teacher training courses conducted by universities and other institutions. To improve the quality of education and the quality of teachers, the quality of teacher education must, essentially, be improved.

In addition to the traditional training programmes distant training programmes are also conducted by several institutions. Students who are undergoing training on the job under this distance training programme are not sufficiently monitored and supervised. It is, therefore, very essential to have programmes introduced and initiated by the Ministry of Education to correct deficiencies and overcome problems currently prevailing in the teacher education programmes.

Another important policy measure that has been introduced to obtain regular and systematic feedback on the performance of various aspects of the education system is the strengthening of education research, monitoring and evaluation.

Establishment of a research centre, National Education Research and Evaluation Centre (NEREC) attached to the Faculty of Education, University of Colombo is one of the key initiatives to develop education research. Studies on teacher recruitment, teacher deployment and teacher education can be undertaken by the NEREC in view of keeping standards in teacher education.

The World Bank in its report (February, 2005) has suggested to establish a 'Teacher Education Board' for planning, coordinating and quality assurance of the teacher education system (p. 65). We hope that this suggestion is an important one, because the quality of education lies mainly on the quality improvement of teacher education.

Establishment of a national board of this type on professional development that focuses on identifying the time, resources, and opportunities for professional development will help to improve the motivation and performance of teachers. Also, this would help to bring together a broad-based group of practitioners, policy makers, and scholars in professional development.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Better management of migrant remittances can reduce poverty

Daily Mirror: 06/12/2005" By Kelum Bandara

International migrants and their remittances to back home can bring in substantial welfare gains and reduce poverty if the flow of migrants and transfer of remittances are properly managed, said Senior World Bank Economist Dilip Ratha citing the World Bank report ‘Global Economic Report (GEP) for 2006.

Addressing the function to mark ‘Special Launch Event’ of the report in Sri Lanka, the senior economist highlighted the number of migrants had now reached 200 million worldwide and still continue to increase.

He said remittances are an important source of income for Sri Lanka. “Migration happens mainly from South to North, and therefore remittances flow from the rich countries to the poor. India, China, Mexico, France and others were the top recipients of remittances. Migrations benefit economy at large. Evidence shows it also reduces poverty,” he said.

He said remittances are spent on areas like education and health and it was a positive effect of migrations.

It was pointed out migrants tend to rise at a time of crisis like natural disaster or conflict, and had given lifeline to countries facing political crisis. “They may augment countries’ ability to access foreign capital,” he added.

Referring to the downsides of the process, he said large remittance flows could lead to currency appreciation leaving adverse effects on exports.

Misuse of them for finance laundering and terrorist- financing is also cited by him as a negative effect of migrations. However, he said such evidence for the latter is hardly found.

Central Bank Director Economic Research Dr. Nandasiri Thenuwara said service sector should be liberalized to end the brain drain by setting up the seed for human power houses for people of high-level calibre in the country.

Dr. Thenuwara said the brain drain was a result such people migrating to other countries, and that ‘human power houses’ should be set up in the country to end this trend.

He said migration takes place for various purposes like getting education and health services, commercial and natural reasons.

“Services should be liberalized in the country. Today, a large number of students go abroad for education. If such education services are not provided here, it will be similar to import education,” he said.

Referring to the oil price hikes, he said the country imports 30 million barrels of oil at a cost of 60 dollars per barrel, and the total amount was roughly equal to the entire remittances.

Lead Economist and Manager Global Trends Development Prospects Group Hans Timmer said the GDP continues to grow rapidly in the developing countries.

The report says GDP growth in South Asia is estimated at 6.9 percent in 2005, up from 6.8 in 2004. For 2006, it is expected to slow to 6.4 percent. This year’s performance reflects stable growth of about seven percent in India, and 6.6 percent growth in Pakistan.

The overall impact of earthquake in Pakistan is expected to have a small impact on the economy, despite its catastrophic human consequences. World Bank Country Director Peter Harrold and Senior Consultant and Economist Dr. Harsha de Silva also spoke.

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Monday, December 12, 2005

What is the economic impact of ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka?

GDNet: World-class knowledge for local solutions: "
by Sarvananthan, M.
Produced by: Point Pedro Institute of Development (PPID), Sri Lanka, 2005

The economic effects of ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka are multifarious. A discussion of the economic effects of ethnic conflict could encompass the opportunity cost of the war, the economic impact of the military expenditures (on both combatants), financing mechanisms (both national and international) of the rebel movement, and the impact of economic sanctions on rebel territory.

This paper focuses on a few selected important aspects of the economic effects which are:

the relationship between economic growth and ethnic conflict
the competition between social expenditures and defense expenditures
the defense expenditures of Sri Lanka in comparison to other South Asian countries and some other internal conflict-ridden countries around the globe
the economic implications of the labour-intensive military strategy
This paper aims to identify the trade-offs between ethnic conflict and economic growth in Sri Lanka by comparing and contrasting the defense expenditure with the social expenditures of Sri Lanka. To gain a wider sense of perspective, this tradeoff is also compared and contrasted with other countries in South Asia and with other selected internal conflict-ridden countries in the developing world. The paper also discusses the cost-effectiveness of the labour-intensive military strategy pursued in Sri Lanka.

The author finds that one of the primary reasons for this predicament of the Sri Lankan economy is the pressing need to increase defense expenditure. The ever-expanding costs are attributed to a labour-intensive military strategy pursued by successive governments. The overall argument provided is that the high economic cost of the civil war in Sri Lanka is unsustainable in the long run, and therefore the peaceful resolution of the conflict is sine qua non for the economic prosperity of the country.

Other findings include:

the trade-off between ethnic conflict and economic growth in Sri Lanka may be higher than hitherto acknowledged by other researchers
defense expenditures have overtaken social expenditures consistently since 1995
Sri Lanka’s defense expenditures, as a proportion of the national income, is the highest in the region (bar Pakistan) and among selected internal conflict-ridden countries in the developing world
the labour-intensive military strategy pursued in Sri Lanka is economically costly

Download the full paper

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Sunday, December 11, 2005

UNHCR: Ending violence against refugee women is a top priority, says Guterres

ReliefWeb - Document Preview: Source: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
Date: 25 Nov 2005

GENEVA, November 25 (UNHCR) – Violence is a common thread in the lives of refugees and displaced people all over the world. War, torture and persecution provide the grim background to their flight, while displacement and exile often engender more violence. For women refugees, the situation can be even worse than it is for men, and on Friday UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said combatting violence against refugee women was one of his top priorities.

Violence against women is closely connected to complex social conditions such as poverty, lack of education, gender inequality, child mortality, maternal ill-health and HIV/AIDS. The United Nations Population Fund has found that violence kills as many women and girls between the ages of 15 and 44 as cancer; that worldwide, one in three women has been beaten, coerced into unwanted sexual relations, or abused; and that roughly 80 per cent of the 800,000 people trafficked across borders each year are women and girls.

"Violence against women," the organizers of the 16 Days of Activism to Eliminate Violence Against Women say, "is a pandemic, one that transcends the bounds of geography, race, culture, class and religion."

When families are dispersed, communities broken and social networks destroyed, women and girls are even more vulnerable to this pandemic. Whether it is in large camps or in very poor urban areas, refugee women are especially at risk, a reality that UNHCR says it recognizes and is trying to address.

"We know that they are constantly subject to violence, abuse and exploitation in many operations around the world," UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said in a message to all UNHCR staff on Friday. "Discussions with women and girls across all regions, be it Colombia, Darfur, Bangladesh, [the former Yugoslav Republic of] Macedonia or Pakistan unfortunately confirm that in addition to rape and sexual abuse, girls can be harassed and subject to violence as they go to school, collect firewood or go to work, as well as through traditional harmful practices and domestic violence."

Four years ago, the UN refugee agency outlined its "Five Commitments to Refugee Women", which included developing strategies to end violence against women; individual registration of men and women; and participation in the distribution of food and other relief items. The number one commitment was to encourage the full participation of women in leadership positions in all refugee committees.

Full participation of women is not an easy target to achieve and a recent UNHCR survey shows that progress has been uneven. Men continue to hold most of the leadership positions in the majority of refugee camps. Perhaps even more worryingly, staff in the field report that even when the target of 50% is reached, men often remain in control of the decision-making process.

The survey also tried to assess whether any progress has been made to reduce incidents of sexual violence against women. One clear pattern emerging from the reported data is that cases of harassment and rape in camps continue to be highest when women and girls have to collect firewood and water.

"Ending violence against refugee, returnee and internally displaced women and girls is one of my top priorities," Guterres said, adding that he counted on "each UNHCR staff member to work towards preventing, responding to and eliminating sexual and gender-based violence."

UNHCR has been working with host countries to address these problems. Women police officers are now present in some camps, while in some countries – for example in Sierra Leone and Uganda – police officers have received training to better understand and deal with violence against women.

There have been a number of other positive developments, like in Afghanistan, where UNHCR's involvement with women-at-risk was driven by the urgent need to protect unaccompanied women returning from countries of asylum. The refugee agency has developed a network of partners working with women and is supporting safe houses and resource centres across the country. Areas that need further development include the provision of legal and psycho-social assistance for women-at-risk, as well as campaigns to address specific forms of violence against women.

While the victims of sexual and gender-based violence are overwhelmingly female, refugee children – both boys and girls – are also very vulnerable. In southern Africa, UNHCR supported a research project with adolescent girls and boys, who were fully involved in identifying the ways in which they could be at risk and developing strategies to keep safe. "We need someone to whom we can talk to and who will listen to us," was their top recommendation.

UNHCR offices around the world are marking the 16 Days of Activism with activities and awareness-raising programmes. These are being organized in partnership with refugee communities, civil society, NGOs, governments and other UN agencies. Events include youth panel discussions on how to address gender violence in Nepal; a radio talk show in Sierra Leone; the launch of a booklet on elimination of violence in Croatia; and a television broadcast in Sri Lanka.

UNHCR News Stories

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