SRI LANKA NEWS – (AUGUST 2019) – Compiled by Victor Melder

SRI LANKA NEWS – (AUGUST 2019) – Compiled by Victor Melder

Victor Meldor - eLanka

Non Infectious Diseases (NIDs) claim the lives of more than 100,000 persons in Sri Lanka annually. Of the 103,500 deaths reported, 10,000 succumbed due to diabetes, Health Ministry statistics indicates. Of adults in the country, 23.7% suffer from high blood cholesterol and/or are under medication for the disease. In terms of gender, 19.1% of adult males and 28.4% of female adults suffer from the condition, new research has revealed. Of those in the 40-69 age group, 9% face a 30% risk of being prone to heart diseases. Of the total adult population in the country, more than 90% suffer from at least one critical element of non contagious diseases, it has further come to light. Of this number, 73.5% suffer from one to two NIDs related critical factors, while 18.3% have three to five such elements, according to the new research. Heart diseases have been identified as the No. 1 killer in terms of NIDs in Sri Lanka, with 30% of the total deaths reported from hospitals, the Health Ministry said. The major major causes of NIDs are smoking, consumption of alcohol, consuming unhygienic food and lack of exercise, it noted. (Sunday Island, 4.8.2019)

Life has changed for those from Kilinochchi, Badulla, Moneragala and Batticaloa thanks to the water harvesting project of the Lanka Rain Water Harvesting Forum (LRWHF) which is nearing completion. The three-year project to provide safe disaster-resilient drinking water to floods and drought prone areas in the island commenced in 2016. The project also sought to provide more efficient disaster-resilient water supplies to vulnerable communities, strengthen the capacity of disaster-prone communities and institutionalization of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) policies and practices related to flood and drought management. The project is funded by the USAID. While nearly 17,900 people from 391 households in the Kilinochchi, Badulla, and Moneragala Districts have been blessed with safe drinking water by the LRWHF’s project, 48 schools and ten medical clinics have been installed with RWH units. In terms of storage facility and capacity, 8,000 litre capacity storage tanks are promoted for domestic use while, 10,000 to 16,000 litre capacity tanks are promoted for hospitals and 30,000 litre capacity for schools. A domestic RWH tank in the dry zone which receives less than 900 mm annual rainfall can meet the daily water demand of 60-70 litres for cooking and drinking, during the driest days off a small roof (50 m2) catchment. The project is providing safe drinking water and promoting sanitation facilities among 4200 families from 25 Grama Niladhari Divisions in five Divisional Secretariat Divisions of Batticaloa. Pure drinking water facilities are also provided for 54 government schools, benefitting around 10000 students.. Only 30% of the households in the entire Batticaloa District have piped water connections and many of them cannot afford water connections. (Daily Island, 10.8.2019)

Sri Lanka’s gross official foreign reserves dropped 421 million US dollars during the month of July 2019 to end at 8,243.9 million US dollars, official data showed. Gross official reserves are made up of Treasury’s dollar balance and central bank monetary reserves which are tied to the pegged reserve money of the country. Drops in Treasury reserve come from debt repayments and do not reflect any balance of payments trouble. Balance of payments trouble come from printing money to resist a contraction of the pegged money supply through the outright purchases of Treasury bills or reverse repurchase auctions. In July the central bank’s Treasury bill stock came down from 124 billion rupees to 126 billion rupees, indicating that the monetary authority was mopping up inflows. However in August the central bank had injected at 14.9 billion rupees to resist a contraction of the monetary base from a weak-side convertibility operation of the peg at rate close to a floor rate of the policy corridor. (Sunday Island, 11.8.2019).

An island-wide wild elephant census is planned by the Department of Wildlife Conservation for September 13 and 14. Some 250 jungle locations close to water holes have been selected by the Department to conduct the survey, Department media spokesperson said. The Department seeks to mobilise up to 4,500 people in teams at these locations and in the forests to do the counting. The Department hopes that with public mobilisation, the enumerator teams will comprise Wildlife Department officers, public servants, tri-forces and police personnel and wildlife enthusiasts. Each team deployed would be headed by a Wildlife Department officer. The last elephant census was carried out in 2011, and the wild elephant population was counted as 5,879. However, the counting could not be done in some areas in the North and East during that previous survey. “This will be the first wild elephant survey that properly covers the entire country. The survey locations are close to water holes because every elephant usually approaches a water hole within a 24-hour period. The dry weather is suitable for the survey. We chose the Poya Day, because moon light is an additional advantage for the survey,” she said. The Department estimates that the census will cost around Rs 80 million.  (Daily News, 16.8.2019)

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a $160 million loan to modernise the operations and improve the efficiency of Sri Lanka Railways, the country’s railway operator, by upgrading its infrastructure and technical capacity, it said in a statement yesterday. This is ADB’s first loan in Sri Lanka’s railway sector. “There is a need to improve public transportation in Sri Lanka to serve a growing population, expected to reach 25 million by 2050,” said ADB Transport Specialist Johan Georget. Sri Lanka Railways moves 136.7 million passengers and two million tons of goods annually. However, the market share of the railway sector has progressively declined over the years, while the country’s railway infrastructure is overdue for significant upgrades and modernisation. The network’s signalling and telecommunication systems are outdated, and the paper tickets are manually printed for all ticket classes and station pairs. Sri Lanka Railways owns 250 diesel locomotives and multiple units, but only about three-quarters of them are operational and half of the fleet is more than 30 years old. The project will provide a modern multichannel—paper, mobile, and smart card—ticketing system, and will also install a state-of-the-art telecommunications system, which will replace the original system installed in 1985, and allow for two-way communications with train drivers and reduce train delays. The project will also finance a new operations headquarters and train control centre, provide infrastructure and equipment for the maintenance of track and rolling stock, and improve railway safety. The technical training centre of Sri Lanka Railways will be upgraded and new courses will be developed to provide future graduates with knowledge of modern railway technologies.
The total cost of the project is $192 million, with the Government of Sri Lanka providing $32 million. The expected project completion date is the end of 2024. (Daily Financial Times, 16.8.2019)

Two deaths and 18 casualties were reported while 12,877 people from 3,274 families had been affected in several districts due to the adverse weather conditions prevailing around the country, the Disaster Management Center (DMC) said yesterday. DMC Deputy Director Pradeep Kodippili said the one death was reported from Nuwara Eliya due to lighting while another death was reported due to the collapse of an embankment at Ayagama in Ratnapura.The persons affected are from the Ratnapura, Vavuniya, Kegalle, Puttalam, Hambantota, Batticaloa, Ampara, Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi, Nuwara Eliya, Gampaha, Kandy, Colombo, Kalutara, Galle, Matara, Kurunegala and Trincomalee districts. “At least 14 houses have been fully damaged while 2,370 housed have been partially damaged following windy conditions,” Kodippili said. He said the most affected areas were the Ratnapura and Kegalle districts from the Sabaragamuwa Province where 4,033 people from 1,014 families were affected. The NBRO said with the rainfall in these areas exceeding 75mm, the Nuwara Eliya, Ratnapura and Kegalle Districts would be vulnerable to landslides, rock falls, slope failures, cutting failures and cutting subsidence. (Daily Mirror, 16.8.2019)

The German Federal Foreign Office (GFFO) has provided a sum of Euros 4 million (approx. Rs. 800 million) towards demining activities in affected areas of the Northern and Eastern Provinces in Sri Lanka.  The GFFO took this decision in light of Sri Lanka’s accession to the Ottawa Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention with the aim of assisting Sri Lanka to achieve the target of becoming a mine-impact free country by 2020. The implementation will be carried out by two Non-Governmental Organisations, HALO Trust and Mines Advisory Group (MAG). Utilising a grant of Euros 2 million by the GFFO, the HALO trust, one of the largest international mine action operators in the country, is implementing the project titled ‘Humanitarian Mine Clearance in Northern Sri Lanka’ over the course of two years in the Districts of Jaffna, Kilinochchi, and Mullaitivu and is expected to strengthen the reconciliation process by removing the threat of landmines and other explosive remnants of war, allowing resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and improving security and livelihoods for the people of northern Sri Lanka. In addition to this, the project will also allow for demobilisation training where the staff funded under this initiative will gain knowledge and skills to improve their post mine clearance livelihoods.  Mines Advisory Group (MAG) also received a grant assistance of Euros 2 million to carry out humanitarian mine clearance which will be focused in both Northern and Eastern provinces in Mannar, Trincomalee, Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu Districts.  Their objective, during the two years of the project implementation, is to release a minimum of 1,110,480 m2 of land in the aforementioned areas to help provide immediate safety to families, both resident population and IDP returnees which is vital for sustainable resettlement, livelihood and other socio-economic development.  This will be achieved in cooperation with their the local implementing partner Delvon Assistance for Social Harmony (DASH) which will help regulate their land release activities and demining operations. MAG has been active in Sri Lanka since 2002 to help destroy landmines, cluster munitions and unexploded ordnance. (Daily Financial Times, 17.8.2019)

The Wildlife Ministry has ordered a probe on the incident where a 70-year-old elephant named Tikiri had been used in the Esala Perahera despite her health condition. Wildlife Minister John Amaratunge said he had instructed the Ministry officials to initiate an inquiry into this matter to ascertain how and why an elephant in such poor health was used in the perahera and to take necessary action against those responsible for this. “I have noted with concern media reports of a 70-year-old elephant named Tikiri that has been used in the Esala Perahera while her health condition, according to published photographs, appears to be bad. I have been informed that the elephant had collapsed yesterday,” he said. “I have instructed officials of the Department of Wildlife Conservation to revive the work that a committee of experts had done in 2015-2016 on preparing guidelines for owners of captive elephants so that the health of these elephants can be ensured,” he said in a statement.  He said these guidelines would be reviewed by an expert committee already appointed by him to look into developing mitigation measures for human-elephant conflict (HEC) and finalised for implementation as soon as possible. “I’m also appointing a team of veterinary surgeons from the Department of Wildlife Conservation and Department of Zoological Gardens to inspect the health of all elephants in captivity and to submit a report to me on the status of their health,” the Minister said. (Daily Mirror, 17.8.2019)

There are more than 7,000 Mugger Crocodiles in Sri Lanka, an ongoing study by renowned herpetologist, Dr. Anslem De Silva has revealed. Speaking exclusively to The Sunday Island, he said this is a world record in terms of numbers of this rare species endemic to Sri Lanka. Dr. De Silva is now conducting a survey in Panama with British crocodile wrangler and trainer Peter Prodromou, who had visited Sri Lanka thrice and trained Sri Lanka’s Department of Wildlife officials as well as provided many expensive crocodile catching implements to the department. Dr. De Silva is assisted by researcher Pradeep Rathnasiri on the crocodile count countrywide. Dr. De Silva, who is also the Vice Chairman of the Crocodile Species Group for World Conservation Union–IUCN and Species Specialist Group for South Asia and Iran, is conducting  a countrywide  survey to assess the status of the two species of mugger and salt water crocodiles in Sri Lanka. He said that he has so far gathered data on more than 300 cases of crocodile attacks on humans in the recent past. His findings are based on the whole island with special emphasis on the area from the Nilwala Ganga. His investigation has revealed that crocodile attacks occur mainly due to mistakes of humans who often bath in places not protected by crocodile fences. “The crocodile is a very intelligent animal; it observes its prey for days, even months before attacking,” says De Silva. Sri Lanka has the biggest population of Mugger Crocodiles, which are also found in small numbers in India and South East Asian countries. (Sunday Island, 11.8.2019)

The High Posts Committee of the Parliament that examines the suitability of persons nominated/appointed to the State Services and State Corporations has approved the appointments of thirteen persons nominated by President Maithripala Sirisena, as Heads of Sri Lanka Missions overseas, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement over the weekend. Among the thirteen new Heads of Mission appointed, there are nine career diplomats of the Sri Lanka Foreign Service (SLFS): Mr. A.S. Khan, High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to Nigeria, Mr. U.L. Mohammed Jauhar, Ambassador of Sri Lanka to Kuwait, Dr. A.S.U Mendis, Ambassador of Sri Lanka to the Republic of Korea, Mrs. S. Shanika Dissanayake, Ambassador of Sri Lanka to Jordan, Mr. W.G.S. Prasanna, Ambassador of Sri Lanka to Vietnam, Mrs. Himalee Arunatilaka, Ambassador of Sri Lanka to Nepal, Mr. Lakshitha Ratnayaka, Ambassador of Sri Lanka to Cuba, Mr. P.R.S. Sugeeshwara Gunaratna, Ambassador of Sri Lanka to Ethiopia and Mrs. D.P.C.W. Karunaratne, Ambassador of Sri Lanka to Lebanon. The High Posts Committee has also approved the following professionals as Heads of Mission: Mr. J. C. Weliamuna, President’s Counsel and prominent human rights activist as High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to Australia, former Air Force Commander Air Chief Marshal Kapila Jayampathy (Rtd.) as High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to Malaysia, Mr. Nimal Karunaratne, former Additional Surveyor General as Ambassador of Sri Lanka to the Maldives, and Mr. Kithsiri Athulathmudali, international business consultant and businessman as Ambassador of Sri Lanka to Qatar. Sri Lanka maintains 52 High Commissions/Embassies overseas. With these appointments, the percentage of career diplomats who will head Sri Lanka Missions overseas will increase to 54%, from 37% at the commencement of 2019. Of the 27 Heads of Mission appointed this year, 23 have been from the Sri Lanka Foreign Service. (Daily Island, 12.8.2019)

A state-of-the-art power-set manufactured in China was unloaded at the Colombo Port. This is the first of nine such trains to be brought down in the coming days and they are tailor-made to be used in the rail tracks in the upcountry. General Manager of CGR, Dilantha Fernando said: “The cost of one power set is USD 10.3 million. We have imported nine of these. Each of these power-sets has two engines, two first class/air conditioned, two second class and three third class compartments. There is also a dining compartment. These power-sets will be tested in the coming days and then will be used in the rail tracks in the upcountry,” He added that it was difficult to operate trains with a large number of compartments because the track was narrow, steep and winding. “Thus, there is a shortage of trains in those areas and these Chinese power-sets are the CGR’s answer to this. (Daily Island, 14.8.2019)

Scientists have discovered six new day geckos, and with the latest discovery the total number of the Cnemaspsis species found in Sri Lanka has gone up to 32. The entire species is endemic to Sri Lanka. Of the six new species, two have been named after the ten giant warriors in King Dutugemunu’s army – Gotaimbara and Nandimithra — and the other four after national heroes, who sacrificed their lives in Sri Lanka’s struggle for independence – Kohukumbure Rate Rala, Hitihami Rate Rala, Butewe Rate Rala and Kivulegedara Mohottala. (Uva-Wellassa Great Rebellion of 1817–1818 during the time of British rule). The new species discovered are comparatively small (40 mm SVL) in size. They are point endemic and categorized as ‘Critically Endangered’ due to their extremely restricted distribution, says scientist, Suranjan Karunaratna. The team of scientists who made the discovery, comprised Suranjan    Karunarathna, Nikolay A. Poyarkov, Anslem de Silva, Majintha Madawala, Madhava Botejue, Vladislav A Gorirn, Thilina Surasnghe, Dinesha Gabadage, Kanishka D. B. Ukuwela and Aaron M. Bauer. Nikkolay A Poyarko, senior scientist at Lomonosov Moscow State University, says he is proud to be a part of the tremendous work, and described the effort as a monograph on Sri Lankan day geckos of the genus Cnemaspis species. The team, led by Sameera Suranjan Karunarathna, worked on the Sri Lankan Cnemaspis for a long time and found many new species of these tiny geckos. Cnemaspis usually live on large rocks and boulders, have flat bodies and are quite fast and very difficult to catch, in contrast to most other geckos which are active during day time and have round pupils. As they are so flat and adapted to life on stone walls, it seems that travelling from one boulder to another is a hard task for them. Thus, most of these geckos are micro endemic – they have very narrow ranges usually restricted to isolated hills or rock outcrops. Possibly due to this micro endemism, there are no less than 147 of the Cnemaspis species known from tropical Asia and Africa, though Southeast Asia appears to be the center of genus diversity. The Russian scientist described Suranjan as a true Sri Lankan patriot for naming the new species after six national heroes – two are named in honour of legendary giant warriors, who took part in an epic war of 205 BC to 161 BC, and the four others who were brave fighters for Ceylon’s Independence. (Sunday Island, 18.8.2019)

The Treasury has rejected the proposal to meet the staggering bill of Rs 4.4 billion spent by the previous Mahinda Rajapaksa regime and declared it could not be met from state funds. The Finance Ministry has informed the Cabinet of Ministers that such authorised payments would be from 2015, in accordance with prevailing Financial Regulations, leaving out a larger sum unpaid. The President Maithripala Sirisena forwarded a Cabinet Memorandum seeking approval for Rs 4.4 billion in unpaid bills of the Rajapaksa regime. The ministers decided that the matter should be referred to the Finance Ministry. Consequently, the ministers have now decided that the Finance Ministry observations should be sent to the Presidential Secretary for appropriate action. The matter came up for discussion at a conference of officials of the Finance Ministry. It transpired that some of the payments for which claims have been made were as old as 2006. Other payments have been incurred due to not following tender procedures whilst yet others do not carry any explanation. It transpired at the conference that the payment that could be made for 2016 would amount to a billion rupees and the balances could not be paid. Among the unpaid bills due to private companies are Rs.112 million due to World Air (Pvt) Ltd., Rs. 71.9 million to Woodstock (Pvt) Ltd., Rs.70 million to Maga Engineering (Pvt) Ltd., Rs. 24.7 million to Abans (Pvt) Ltd., Rs.24.4 million to Sri Lanka Granite (Pvt) Ltd., Rs.12.9 million to ETA Melco Engineering (Pvt) Ltd., Rs.12.2 million to B. Somasiri and Rs.10.3 million to Premasiri Stores. Meanwhile, Sri Lanka Customs is owed Rs. 2 billion.(Sunday Times, 18.8.2019)

The Government plans to borrow Rs.1, 944 billion from local and foreign sources for its debt servicing including the financing of the budget deficit in 2019, a senior Finance Ministry official said. The Treasury has received an income of Rs 894 billion in the first six months this year. However, Rs 1,100 billion had to be paid as debt service; he added pointing out that there is a shortfall of Rs. 206 billion even after the debt and interest are paid off. Sri Lanka, with a persistent current account deficit of the balance of payments, has had to rely on external borrowings to build up foreign reserves and internal borrowings to service local debts, a senior Central Bank official said. The Government has allocated Rs. 2,057 billion for debt servicing in 2019, he said. Fiscal operations of the Government moderated during the first four months of 2019 amidst the Government’s efforts towards a revenue-based fiscal consolidation. Government expenditure was Rs. 962 billion during January-April 2019, an increase of 10.1 per cent compared to the same period of 2018. The utilisation of Government borrowings for the period from January 1 to April 30 was recorded as Rs. 944.2 billion. Approximately 46 per cent of domestic borrowing consisted of short-term borrowing in the first four months of 2019. (Sunday Times, 25.8.2019)

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