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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, May 13, 2006

Peace in Serendipity with a local flavour

Tamil Week: 06/05/2006" By Anna Mascurri MD

In 1983, on July 23, at around 11a.m, the writer heard the sound of crackling glass, a van, with school children, had been set on fire in front of Sukhastan Gardens on Ward Place. The driver ran into the writer’s house, clambered over the short boundary wall and ran into a private hospital with a screaming mob chasing him in his wake, into the hospital, on the same aerial route of going over the wall! The children probably ran elsewhere. Sri Lanka has not looked back since.

The country has seen internal displacement, refugees, assassinations, bomb blasts, massacres, lulls in fighting , provincial councils, military operations, security zones, a cease-fire, rounds of negotiations, and current anxieties.

We had, estimatedly, destroyed close upon 270,000 houses in the North east. The tsunami took away approximately 98,000.The latter is fully funded. The former has about 40,000 funded! To tide over time and money, people have been given temporary shelter, they are at best cadjan huts or half walled open structures. The Cease-Fire Agreement (CFA) brought promise of dealing with all the conflict losses, until Tokyo, when the LTTE stopped traveling and with that the peace talks under Ranil ceased. GL was, evidently, on the verge of meeting Balasingham in early 2003, when Chandrika decided to take matters into her hands. In the interim, Bernard and his colleagues had many an interesting dialogue with civil types, in the midst of occasionally sinking ships, boats, arms caches and what not, which mysteriously lessened, no sooner Chandrika took over. Jayantha took over SCOPP and accidentally, had tea with Pulee. Previously, it was not difficult for both peace secretariats to phone each other. When the East was on fire recently, we had to rely on the facilitators and the SLMM to pass messages!

Recent events in Trincomalee had echoes to the chilling events of July 83. Lawlessness, Colombo having to send senior officials and officers, because the people on the ground could not temper feelings of nationalism with the necessity of ensuring the rule of law was maintained. During the New Year in April, over a period of four hours frantic efforts by concerned individuals, succeeded in securing safety for 200 frightened persons sheltering in a church. Many frightened persons elsewhere could not be reached, nor was their plight known, nor did they receive assured security when they needed it most.

What of the humanitarians? A bulk of the agencies are not equipped to work in conflict conditions. They have gone into preparedness and evacuation mode. A few are all weather types. Courageous individuals from civil society, did express themselves candidly, conveyed important information to the very few in Government who were accessible and able to make a difference. They showed willingness to stand firm for peace at all costs and speak plainly to both Government and the LTTE, at the risk of physical harm. We have civic leaders. The critique about them include marketing suffering of others, Colombo based international travellers, bookish, egoists seeking a Nobel, threat to national security, clubbish, English speaking and hardly representative of the interests of those whose cause they espouse. The missing component is persons who represent those who are directly affected and resident in those areas.

The diplomats. Development partners meet, as a practice, amongst themselves very regularly. There are no nationals present. Peter and Sandro continue their efforts beyond the call of duty. Miguel is not far behind. Other types of gatherings include the one text. Some work 8 days (including part of their sleep times). The co-chairs are held together by modest common agreements. The US, with India, wield the most influence on any government of the day.

Influencing the LTTE has always and continues to be elusive.

It is in the climate one looks at the pursuit of peace. There seems to be a line in Colombo which believes being firm and aggressive with the LTTE would bring dividends. The LTTE plays to set the agenda. Both proved after Geneva 1, their ability to reign in aberrations which violated the CFA. Both have contributed to the violation of the CFA as well! One may argue that the LTTE have higher hits on the CFA. Will we get to discussing the famous core issues? Be they local government, without battling the contours of interim arrangements or, federal or god forbid, confederal options. When one cannot agree to either, take a 688, seaplane,chopper,boats etc, when we get to core issues would be interesting to watch.

What of the people. Immense volumes of paper have been dispensed with, in documenting multiple displacement, missing (there was a Jaffna family, poor but, very welcoming. The man worked for SLBC. He was everybody’s friend. That was his folly. He was picked up at 5 p.m. on Jawatte Road off his bike. He never came back. His wife gave birth later. The child did not and cannot see his father), torture, mine infested fields, livelihood lost, misery of widowhood, trauma of watching the horrors of war, massacres, (one week after a massacre, which was retaliatory to another massacre, 180 people were chopped up, pieces of brain were still on the wall, the blood had not dried and wobbled like jelly for the wind, a young mother cradling a baby was looking at what was left of her house in the blazing morning sun, since she had fled after the massacre, the house had been stripped of its fittings by outlying villagers), the disabled, flight out of the country (in cash and carry, employment in London, washing windows in Paris, at the bus station in front of Cornavin station, Geneva, hiding from Interior departments in Europe, appealing deportation, to name a few) etc .

DBS in Canada. He spent time on the 4th floor, because he dared to write of the IPKF exploits, when fighting began in ‘87. Journalism without borders in SL, exists? Can we seriously address these issues in a manner which heals the wounds and scars, help rebuild broken lives, families, communities? CBK asked David, Tara, Hiranthi, Jeevan, Lanka, Dudley, Obadage, Christie, Kalhari to design healing. She liked it. In 1987, some of the finest individuals in public service after independence, came together, to run the NE provincial administration. Some are still around. Charitha, Brad, Austin and Paski attempted to do similar things recently. Selvin would sleep in his vehicle through the night, while his driver would take him from district to district, for the next days meeting on behalf of SIHRN. Lalith is trying now. Saliya has an unenviable task of charting a liberal path of recovery. Ganesh is in Jaffna, Lanka soldiers on in Trinco. So does Rangarajah.

Do we have multi ethnic sensitivities guiding policy, who will implement? Nivaard? Recent draft legislation expressly walks to end displacemnt. De-mining has worked diligently and professionally. Full funding on line remains an unmet need for all of post conflict recovery. A predictable environment which, on the one hand, as said by Dr. Jayasundare, enables 7% growth in 2006, whilst being free of risk status in terms of global risk assessment, achievable?

Can we seriously address these issues in a non conflictual manner? Is there enough of communication to allow for such dialogue to take place? If the Government and the LTTE were to sit as equals around any table, would questions of status and ‘parties’ follow? How can resolutions and concessions be given if, status of parties becomes an issue? Can the President team up with political combination, which allow for liberal dialogue? Will Ranil speak to MR if he feels robbed lately. What is the win win where the SLFP and the UNP gains, whilst the country, as a whole, gains too. Can the occupants, ferried by BMW’s, Volvos, the occasional Mercedes supported by Toyotas and Defenders, find ways to design and configure lasting solutions which can hold. Will the LTTE wait that long? In the interim, will the Government continue to pursue strategies which strive to weaken or decimate the LTTE in some manner, while the LTTE waits to make dramatic gains? Do civil society actors have the courage and conviction to call a spade and demand the parties work to preserve lives and the future of the country? On the other hand, can we carry on with a war of attrition, which maintains the no war - no peace status quo but does little more?

Funny, how since 58’, every round of negotiations has to look at bigger solutions ( B-C,D-C, DDC, PC, Federal, ISGA, and ….). Have not the killers and practices of the past, not begun visiting us lately…Uthayan press, Jaffna, tonight….? Will the LTTE, during Prabhakarans time, want to strive, to achieve nationhood, if they feel the South will not and cannot really reconfigure the State, for asymmetrical devolution..

A child of 10 now, what country would he or she inherit if, the country was not at peace. The children who ran out of the van down Ward Place in 1983, would be in their twenties if not thirties and the country is still at war! Most may not even be in the country. What have we done, do we know or, are the horrors of recent history too much for us to honestly address? [Source: Daily Mirror]

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Friday, May 12, 2006

The Failed States Index

FP:

Foreign Policy magazines’ 2006 Failed States Index ranks Sri Lanka at #25. At #1 is Sudan. Based on 12 indicators of vulnerability, each country is given a score from 0-120; the higher the score the worse off you are. Sri Lanka for instance is given a score of 92.4; not very far behind the worst country, Sudan, which is at 112.3.

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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Sri Lanka: Volunteers at the heart of tsunami recovery efforts

ReliefWeb: 05/05/2006" by Rukshan Ratnam, International Federation, Sri Lanka

Volunteers are always at the forefront of any Red Cross Red Crescent operation and the post-tsunami recovery programme in Sri Lanka is no exception. Almost a year and a half after the devastating Asian tsunami, hundreds of volunteers from the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society (SLRCS) are continuing to work with affected communities, proving that their skills remain crucial to the country’s recovery process.

When the tsunami ravaged almost two thirds of Sri Lanka’s coastline, more than 5,000 Red Cross volunteers from all over the country responded, helping to rescue people, recover bodies, and distribute food, clothing, tents and non-food relief items.

Today, volunteers continue to be involved in almost all aspects of the Red Cross Red Crescent post-tsunami recovery programme, including first aid and community based healthcare.

In addition, they’ve become involved in several areas that are new to the Sri Lanka Red Cross, such providing psychosocial support to affected community members, monitoring and cleaning wells, purifying and distributing water, carrying out needs assessments and supporting livelihood initiatives.

“It’s hard work, but it is also very satisfying when you see the smiles on the people’s faces when they thank the Red Cross,” says Kathija, a volunteer for the SLRCS, who works on a livelihoods project in Ampara. “To have the opportunity to bring hope and change to people’s lives makes me feel that I am doing something useful,” she adds.

It is not always easy, though, and volunteers are not always welcomed with open arms. Kathija describes how a widow chased her away when she knocked on her door to conduct a household survey.

“The woman said several people had visited her but none had returned to help,” Kathija explains. “I was chased away and told never to come back”.

But Kathija did go back and eventually managed to gain the woman’s trust after repeatedly reassuring her that the Red Cross genuinely wanted to help. “We gave her a grinding machine to make flour and today, she is one of the Red Cross’ biggest fans,” she says.

Many volunteers were directly affected by the tsunami themselves and continue to live in temporary shelters located in transitional camps. For them, working with affected communities provides a sense of purpose and helps them to recover from their own personal tragedies.

Subatheepan, who works with the Danish Red Cross psychosocial programme in Kalmunai, is one such volunteer.

“I lost my mother in the tsunami,” says Subatheepan. “So I find that I can better relate to the feelings of the people we work with because I too feel the loss of a loved one.

“I think that this has helped me in understanding and responding to people’s needs,” he adds. “It has also helped me to cope with the loss of my mother.”

Mohideen Muzamil is another volunteer turned Sri Lanka Red Cross staffer. He was first recruited by the Swedish Red Cross Emergency Response Unit in Pottuvil to assist with translating. A year and a half later, he now coordinates the Federation’s well monitoring and cleaning project in Pottuvil division.

“I lost my house in the tsunami,” he says. “But my work with the Red Cross has given me a fresh start in life and it also gives me a sense of satisfaction to know that I am contributing to the recovery of my own community.”

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

ADB to rehabilitate tsunami victims

SAMN: 05/05/2006"

A programme for providing financial aid to poor families to rehabilitate the tsunami displaced public, a programme was launched recently.Accordingly 4,500 tsunami affected families would be benefited by this programme initiated by the Asian Development Bank, assisted by the Japanese Fund for poverty reduction (JFPR)Under this programme the drainage systems of roads in the local government institutions will be renovated with the participation of residents in the respective areas and arrangements have been made to pay Rs. 400 per day, per person. The annual total allocation for this payment is Rs. 200 million.

The programme has been launched in ten districts, Kalutara, Galle, Matara, Hambantota, Ampara, Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu and Jaffna, in the western southern and the North-East provinces. A large number of officers and the public including MPs and ministers and the Asian development Bank Sri Lanka resident director Alisandera Piyo, participated in the programme held presided by local administration and provincial councils minister Janaka Bandara Tennekoon.

At the opening address the minister Tennekoon said NGOs, foreign countries and the government are committed in rehabilitating the tsunami displaced victims, although not 100 percent successful due to high magnitude of the devastation 48 local government institutions 12 municipalities, 19 urban councils and 29 pradesheeya Sabhas are subjected to this destruction the minister said. The minister pledged that similar conciliatory programmes will be implemented in the future.

Asian Development Bank Sri Lankan resident director Alisandare Piso and several officers spoke at this event.

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Monday, May 08, 2006

Government agencies claim two rates of growth for Sri Lanka

LBO: 01/05/2006"

The claims of two different growth rates for Sri Lanka by two agencies have highlighted inherent shortcomings in the preparation of national income accounting and also added fuel to sceptics who do not believe economic growth numbers.

Last week, the Central Bank of Sri Lanka said the country's economy grew by 6.0 percent just a day after the ministry of finance said it grew by 6.2 percent.

The ministry of finance used the national accounts prepared by the Department of Census and Statistics, while the Central Bank generated its own numbers.

But in practice, both agencies largely use the same sources and share information to a great degree.

So what is the correct growth figure?

"There is no correct growth figure," says H N Thenuwara, Director of Economic Research at the Central Bank.

"A difference of 0.2 percent is not statistically significant."

Conspiracy theory

The Central Bank cancelled the press conference, citing the attempted assassination of the country's army commander.

But the Finance Ministry which released its own Annual Report with the 6.2 percent number, went ahead with the Press conference, chaired by Treasury Secretary P B Jayasundera.

This led to a theory among some media persons, that the Central Bank cancelled the traditional press conference that accompanies the release of the Annual Report, because it did not want to be drawn into a controversy over the two numbers.

Sri Lanka's Central Bank which suffers from fiscal dominance problems and has difficulty controlling inflation as a result, has become increasingly silent during the last two years.

Earlier in the year it cancelled the press conference that accompanies the 3rd quarter GDP numbers.

The press conference that accompanies the monthly monetary policy statements were cancelled much earlier.

But official insist that there is nothing sinister or secret about the two GDP growth numbers, and that it can all be explained.

Estimate

GDP numbers are essentially estimates, says Thenuwara.

Agencies that compute national account numbers always call them 'GDP estimates', though laymen and the media refer to them as 'GDP' in absolute terms.

A large part of the growth difference for 2005 is related to the base year, used by the two government agencies.

The size of the economic output generated within the country which is measures by the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is first measured by calculated products and services of at current prices (Gross National Product or GNP includes income earned from abroad and sent back by Sri Lankan citizens and companies).

Then the effect of inflation is taken off by adjusting with a 'GDP deflator' to come up with 'constant' prices.

Coming with the GDP deflator is a tedious task, with each sector being measured separately.

"In a sector like tea, where lots of data is available, we can find the volumes and prices and find the effect of prices rises easily," explains Central Bank's Director of Statistics, Anila Dias Bandaranaike.

"For other sectors like construction we have to use indices."

The Central Bank came up with a GDP at current prices of 2,366 billion rupees, and a GDP deflator of 9.9 percent, while the Census Department came up with current GDP of 2407 billion and a GDP deflator of 10 percent.

Different Base

The Central Bank uses a 1996 base and the Census Department a 1998 base, using respective consumer economic surveys of those years.

A statistical model of the economy (essentially a snapshot of the economy) is also constructed at the time, using actual information and surveys.

In the model used by the Census Department based on the 1998 survey, agriculture has a weight of 12.2 percent, while the Central Bank's data structure has a weight of 17.2 percent.

A tale of two economies

.................Census Department........Central Bank
Agriculture............12.2..................17.2
Industry...............30.5..................27.0
Services...............57.3..................55.8

(Sources : Central Bank, Department of Census and Statistics)

The data structure used by the Census department has 15 sub-sectors, while the Central Bank has only 9.

For example, the Central Bank sub-divides the services sector into four sub-sectors; wholesale and retail, transport storage and communication, financial services, real estate and business services, public administration defence and other social and personal services.

The Census Department has additional sub-sectors such as, ownership of dwellings, private services, hotels and restaurants in its structure of the services sector.

Agriculture, a stagnant sector, contributes little to economic growth, while services and industry brings in most of the growth.

Therefore, a data structure which has a higher weight for services and industry, like that of the Census Department model, may generate a higher GDP number.

GDP numbers are estimates to a large degree, except for areas like tea, where meticulous record-keeping is the norm, as well as the financial sector, telecommunications and large factory industry.

In theory, the growth rates between two consumer economic surveys should lead to the new structure of the economy in later years.

But in practice, since there a lot of estimates, and assumptions and their effects can get compounded over several years.

Statisticians use surveys to take a 'new picture' of the economy from time to time and use it as an error-correcting mechanism.

Statisticians however, dislike words like 'errors', for them such techniques are a standard part of their work.

What is important is for users of information to use the same data series for comparison purposes across time.

But for ordinary laymen, the two GDP growth numbers provide ideal fodder to re-inforce the adage of 'lies, damn lies and statistics'.

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Sunday, May 07, 2006

ReliefWeb Document Preview: Source: International Federation of Red Cross And Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Date: 05 May 2006.

by Rukshan Ratnam, International Federation, Sri Lanka

Volunteers are always at the forefront of any Red Cross Red Crescent operation and the post-tsunami recovery programme in Sri Lanka is no exception. Almost a year and a half after the devastating Asian tsunami, hundreds of volunteers from the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society (SLRCS) are continuing to work with affected communities, proving that their skills remain crucial to the country’s recovery process.
When the tsunami ravaged almost two thirds of Sri Lanka’s coastline, more than 5,000 Red Cross volunteers from all over the country responded, helping to rescue people, recover bodies, and distribute food, clothing, tents and non-food relief items.
Today, volunteers continue to be involved in almost all aspects of the Red Cross Red Crescent post-tsunami recovery programme, including first aid and community based healthcare.
In addition, they’ve become involved in several areas that are new to the Sri Lanka Red Cross, such providing psychosocial support to affected community members, monitoring and cleaning wells, purifying and distributing water, carrying out needs assessments and supporting livelihood initiatives.
“It’s hard work, but it is also very satisfying when you see the smiles on the people’s faces when they thank the Red Cross,” says Kathija, a volunteer for the SLRCS, who works on a livelihoods project in Ampara. “To have the opportunity to bring hope and change to people’s lives makes me feel that I am doing something useful,” she adds.
It is not always easy, though, and volunteers are not always welcomed with open arms. Kathija describes how a widow chased her away when she knocked on her door to conduct a household survey.
“The woman said several people had visited her but none had returned to help,” Kathija explains. “I was chased away and told never to come back”.
But Kathija did go back and eventually managed to gain the woman’s trust after repeatedly reassuring her that the Red Cross genuinely wanted to help. “We gave her a grinding machine to make flour and today, she is one of the Red Cross’ biggest fans,” she says.
Many volunteers were directly affected by the tsunami themselves and continue to live in temporary shelters located in transitional camps. For them, working with affected communities provides a sense of purpose and helps them to recover from their own personal tragedies.
Subatheepan, who works with the Danish Red Cross psychosocial programme in Kalmunai, is one such volunteer.
“I lost my mother in the tsunami,” says Subatheepan. “So I find that I can better relate to the feelings of the people we work with because I too feel the loss of a loved one.
“I think that this has helped me in understanding and responding to people’s needs,” he adds. “It has also helped me to cope with the loss of my mother.”
Mohideen Muzamil is another volunteer turned Sri Lanka Red Cross staffer. He was first recruited by the Swedish Red Cross Emergency Response Unit in Pottuvil to assist with translating. A year and a half later, he now coordinates the Federation’s well monitoring and cleaning project in Pottuvil division.
“I lost my house in the tsunami,” he says. “But my work with the Red Cross has given me a fresh start in life and it also gives me a sense of satisfaction to know that I am contributing to the recovery of my own community.”

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Farmers must benefit from linkages in introducing new technology- Prof. R. O. Thattil

Daily News: 20/04/2006: By Irangika Range

FARMING TECHNOLOGY: The Government, research institutions and private sector should play a meaningful role in taking new technologies to farmers. There is a need to ensure that farmers get the benefits of new technologies, being developed in agriculture in the country.

Director of the Postgraduate Institute of Agriculture(PGIA) Prof. R.O. Thattil said there should be a proper linkage between related government bodies who prepare and implement national agriculture policies and research institutes and universities, to ensure the proper utilisation of new technology to promote agriculture.

"The PGIA conducts research on various agriculture aspects including genetics and breeding, biotechnology, horticulture, forestry and agroforesty, agri-business management, bio-statistics, livestock production, fisheries and food technology covering technical, socio-economic and environmental aspects.

Thattil said these new technologies need to be taken to the farmers without much of a time lag.

"Missing of proper coordination between the policy makers and research institutes is a major drawback to ensure the speedy development of the sector," he said.

He said although many institutes and universities introduce new technologies, they don't have much capacity to introduce them among the farmers.

"It is a large scale work and related government bodies should include these new proposals into the policy framework. They should also play an active role to implement these policies in the field. More field work should be done by agriculture extension officers to educate farmers in adopting new technology to increase their food and animal productivity. If related bodies can continue these types of awareness programmes, we can expect more development in the industry," he said.

He said farmers are somewhat slow in adopting the new technologies and many education programmes on pre and post harvest, management and market should be conducted for the benefit of farmers.

The PGIA has done research on various agricultural aspects. Introduction of more productive seeds to produce high quality chillies and paddy is one of the successful areas.

He said most of the farmers don't have a good idea of the accurate applying of pesticide, insecticide and fertiliser to their cultivation.

"We have done many trials and experiments on various crops and it should be popularised among the farmers. Weeds are also a major problem for the farmers and the PGIA has done research to kill the weeds using bio-controlling applications.

The industry should follow post harvest techniques to reduce the damage and to store their crops without having them perish.

There are many possibilities to generate bio-organic fertiliser using wastage at the farms.

Solid waste management systems and technologies of food science and animal science would also lead to the high yielding production of farmers.

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