SRI LANKA NEWS (JULY 2020) – Compiled by Victor Melder

                                                          SRI LANKA NEWS (JULY 2020) – Compiled by Victor Melder       

Victor Meldor - eLanka        

The Civil Security Department (CSD) has launched a project to mitigate the human-elephant conflict; it has distributed over 100,000 citrus saplings among the staff members living in Handapanagala to be planted along elephant corridors. The project was initiated under the directives of the CSD Director General Rear Admiral (Retd) Ananda Peiris. “The CSD is now nurturing citrus nurseries as a long term solution for the long existing issue and the planting process would commence on a large scale with the onset of the rainy season,” said Rear Admiral Peiris. Rear Admiral Peiris, launching the pilot project said, citrus trees prevented elephants from entering villages as they consciously avoid citrus bushes full of sharp thorns. Lt. Col. Kumara Jagoda, CSD Commanding Officer of Moneragala who is steering the project in Handapanagala, one of the most vulnerable human habitations for elephant raids in the region, said, “We are launching this project as a permanent solution to all the threatened areas in the near future.” According to the Elephant Conservation Unit (ECU) of the Wildlife Conservation Department, between 250 and 300 elephant deaths and 100 to 125 human deaths are reported annually in the country due to the on-going conflict between man and the majestic creature. ECU sources have identified Polonnaruwa, Moneragala and Wellawaya as being the most threatened areas by the wild elephants. (Daily Island, 11,7.2020)

As the number of COVID-19 cases rises rapidly, political parties and the education sector have adopted precautionary measures. The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) has cancelled its main political rallies attended by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. General Secretary of the SLPP, Sagara Kariyawasam said that the party leadership had also asked its candidates to follow the health guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health when smaller meetings were held Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education said that all government schools and Pirivenas would be closed till next Friday (17). It said that the ministry was monitoring the situation. “The priority of the Ministry is to ensure the safety of all. An information centre has been established at the Ministry, as per the instructions of the Minister of Education Dullas Alahapperuma,” the media unit of the Ministry said. Meanwhile, 90 new COVID-19 patients had been detected by 3 pm yesterday bringing the active cases to 614. The total number of confirmed cases is 2,605. 76 new cases were reported from Senapura Rehabilitation camp while 14 new cases were reported from Kandakadu Rehabilitation Centre. (Daily Island, 13.7.2020)

India has pledged to provide the fullest support to expedite the US$1.1 billion special SWAP facility arrangement to be extended to Sri Lanka for the purpose of boosting dwindling foreign reserves in the country.
     Under the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) framework on currency swap arrangement for SAARC countries for the period 2019 to 2022, RBI will offer swap arrangement within the overall corpus of $2 billion, Finance Ministry sources said. The currency swap facility is available to all SAARC member countries, subject to their signing the bilateral swap agreements and provides certain concessions for swap withdrawals in Indian Rupee  Central Bank Governor Prof. W.D. Lakshman held discussions on Tuesday July 14 with Acting Indian High Commissioner Vinod K. Jacob on the progress of the proposed special SWAP facility of $ 1.1 billion between the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the Central Bank of Sri Lanka.  During this discussion, the Acting High Commissioner promised to provide the fullest support of the High Commission to make this arrangement successful while extending it expeditiously.  Their discussions were also centered on Indo-Sri Lanka economic relationships. Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has requested India to provide a special $1.1 billion currency swap facility to boost the country’s draining foreign exchange reserves in view of the economic slowdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.   The Presidential Secretariat noted in a statement that that the new Indian aid is in addition to the $400 million pledged for  Sri Lanka by  the Indian government under the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) framework. (BS)  (Times Online, 15.7.2020)

Three officers attached to the Wildlife Department including a veterinary surgeon were rescued after their boat capsized following an elephant attack in Kala Wewa today. The officers, on-boat, had tried to approach the elephant that was in the water to give injections as the elephant was earlier injured when it was hit by a train several days ago. After being injected, the elephant has acted in an aggressive manner and damaged the boat in which the wildlife officers were in. However, fishermen in the vicinity have rescued all four wildlife officers, unharmed. According to the officers, an early attempt by another group of wildlife officers to treat the same elephant has ended up in a similar way. (Daily Mirror, 15.7.2020)

Sri Lanka earned Rs. 84.7 billion in forex from tea during the first five months of 2020. However, these earnings were less than the corresponding earnings for 2019. Last year, the earned income was Rs.101.billion, recording a  shortfall of Rs.17.1 billion.  Besides, Sri Lanka’s cost of production in the tea sector  is the highest in the world, the Forbes & Walker tea market report of last week said. Plantation sources attributed these costs to low crop caused by severe drought conditions that prevailed effective mid December 2019 until around mid  April this year. The report further said the average recorded for May this year at Rs.697.57 per kilo was the highest on record for a month. The average for June 2020 at Rs.612.67, showed a significant increase of Rs.118.19, comparing results for the same month in 2019, which was Rs. 494.48. In Kenya, production levels were high,  produce was in the region of 254 million kilos. However, such produce did not influence the black tea market, Kenya mainly supplied the CTC market. Cooke said price levels in Colombo were of significance.  The industry contributed markedly to the economy of the country. Most other industries were in lock down. Tea and the plantations continued to function near normal with no interruption to normal work routines. Tea Small Holders Association and the Tea Factory Owners Association too confirmed that  prices in Colombo brought good earnings for the small holder sector  and tea factory  owners. Small holders particularly, earned a  sum of about Rs. 115. per kilo on green leaf supplied to tea factory owners. Each small holder could supply a quantity of around 50 kilos of green leaf each day. However, some tea factory owners were quoted as saying that their earnings were barely significant because such margins were only around 32 percent of earnings. John Keels PLC, Tea Market Report said Russia, Turkey, and CIS countries lent fair buying support, including Libya and Iraq. Additionally, Azerbaijan, China and Chile were on the buyers’ list in Colombo. Germany, the US and Jordan  showed buying interest at the auctions these past few weeks.(Daily Island, 18.7.2020)

An ongoing study reveals active nesting of the globally vulnerable bird species Lesser Adjutant Stork (Leptoptilos Javanicus) for the first time in Sri Lanka. The extensive study on the Lesser Adjutant Stork is being conducted in Maduru Oya National Park. The research team said there have been no active nesting records of the Lesser Adjutant Storks from Sri Lanka until now, though it was certain to breed in the country. The birds had started nesting in April amidst the lockdown, and park officials who were helping the researchers, had reported the nesting. Under the guidance of the researchers, park officials had maintained records of the nests. After the reopening of national park, the researchers had visited the site and recorded the necessary scientific details.By the time the lockdown was over, the chicks had grown and were able to fly. The nesting tree was one of the tallest in the area with a relatively sparse foliage cover. According to the IUCN, the global population of this stork probably numbers 5,500-10,000 mature individuals and the trend of the population is declining. The species is now considered globally vulnerable (VU) due to its declining population. In Sri Lanka, the Lesser Adjutant Stork is a rare resident breeder and the country’s second tallest bird. The bird is locally known by various Sinhala names such as ‘thattakoka’, ‘manakoka’, ‘maakoka’, ‘thattamaanawa’, ‘bahurumaanawa’ and ‘heenbahurumaanawa’ and ‘mewakokku’ in Sri Lankan Tamil. The distribution of the species in Sri Lanka appears to be determined by annual rainfall and elevation and these birds can be seen only in the dry zone. The bird is an uncommon species which prefers undisturbed wilderness and lonely water holes, jungle tanks, dry river beds, savannahs, dry mixed evergreen forests, permanent wetlands, crop lands and in protected areas in the dry lowlands. The population has declined and is threatened with extinction due to hunting and habitat degradation. The researchers have observed that Lesser Adjutant Storks have a strong preference for ‘kolon’ trees (Adina cordifolia) for nesting. These trees are around 30m in height and are preferred by the birds as their roosting sites. Researchers believe that this may be due to the less foliage cover of the tree and the relatively large canopy spread. The platform- like nature of the canopy allows these large birds to easily take off and land on branches. The nests are made of sticks and twigs and are irregularly shaped similar to the nests of other stork species. They open to the sky without any shade. The nesting tree of the birds in Sri Lanka was found in close proximity to the Maduru Oya reservoir, which provides the species a good foraging ground. The researchers had observed the adults feeding the chicks with fresh water fish, which are common in the reservoir. (Sunday Island, 19.7.2020)

An University lecturer attached to the Engineering Faculty of University of Jaffna (UoJ) in Kilinochchi was attacked by an elephant inside the university premises last night, Police said. The 32 year old female lecturer is currently admitted to Jaffna Teaching Hospital with critical injuries. Preliminary police investigations revealed that the injured lecturer and her friend were walking towards the hostel, located inside the 90 acre land property of the university when an elephant emerged from bushes and tried to attack both. Kilinochchi police is conducting further investigations in this regard (Times Online, 21.7.2020)

A university lecturer attached to Kilinochchi Technology Faculty of the Jaffna University, died yesterday at the Jaffna Hospital after being attacked by a wild elephant. She was attacked on Sunday night near the hostel of the Kilinochchi Technology Faculty at Araviyalnagar. The victim was a 32-year-old resident of Kelanimulla.(Daily Island, 21.7.2020)

Sri Lanka’s revenue from income tax has come down significantly during the COVID-19 period, Finance Ministry data showed. Revenue from income taxes declined considerably by 21.9 per cent to Rs.81.4 billion during the first four months of 2020, compared to Rs.104.3 billion during the same period of the previous year, realising 25.9 per cent of the annual estimate. This was mainly due to the slowdown of economic activities resulting in the outbreak of a COVID-19 pandemic coupled with the removal of Economic Services Charge (ESC) and Withholding Tax (WHT) with effect from January 1, 2020. Moreover, increased personal income tax-free allowance to Rs. 3 million per annum from Rs. 500,000 per annum and rationalization of Corporate Income Tax (CIT) structure effective from January 01, 2020, also affected this performance, Ministry data revealed.  However, revenue from corporate and non-corporate income taxes increased by 35.7 per cent to Rs. 57.9 billion during the same period.
Sri Lanka’s personal income tax payers are now getting relief up to Rs. 1.2 million a year for investments in stocks and securities, housing interest, pension contributions, medical insurance and children’s education incurred within the country, official sources said. Resident tax-payers and citizens abroad are also getting Rs. 3 million rupees of tax relief on all earnings. (BS) Times Online, 25.7.2020) 

A Wild Elephant roaming along the Udawalawe-Monaragala main road was accidentally hit by a luxury bus plying from Colombo to Ampara. The animal had broken through the electric fence of the Udawalawe Park on Friday (24) night and had been loitering on the main Monaragala Road. The animal had succumbed to the injuries it sustained despite treatment by Wildlife veterinarians. The driver of the bus had stated to the police that the animal had suddenly intruded onto the main road near the 10th Mile Post and though he had attempted to manoeuvre the vehicle in order to avoid it colliding with the animal but it was so swift that it had knocked against the front side of the bus causing severe damage to the bus and also causing minor injuries to passengers, one of whom had been admitted to the Udawalawe Hospital. The driver of the bus had been taken into police custody and was due to be produced in courts. (Daily Mirror Online, 27.7.2020)

The North Colombo Teaching Hospital (NCTH) Ragama liver transplant team together with expert doctors from across the country, was able to perform a living-donor liver transplant on a nine year old girl. This marks the first successful liver transplant performed for a child in Sri Lanka, Prof. Rohan Siriwardana said. With this transplant, the NCTH liver transplant team has reached a milestone of performing 50 liver transplants where the rest were adults. The nine year old girl had cirrhosis of the liver. The surgery was performed on July 14 and the donor was the girl’s mother. Both the mother and child are doing well and going through a smooth recovery. Prof. Siriwardana said that the girl required frequent admissions to the ICU during the past one year. Paediatricians clearly mentioned that the girl urgently needed a liver transplant in order to survive. However, there was no paediatric liver transplant service available in the country to help her. The only option the family had was to seek medical care overseas. “Complex operations were carried out on the child and the mother over a period of 12 hours with the help of expert doctors from across the country. She is now warded at the NCTH, Ragama and is preparing to go home in a few days. The mother has also recovered and is enjoying the company of her daughter who received a new life from her,” he added. (Daily News, 27.7.2020)

Sri Lanka’s apparel exports have seen a sharp drop of 52.72 per cent in earnings this year as per cumulative data from January to July compared to 2019, according to statistics released by the Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF) website.January to July cumulative data indicated that total exports for the period in 2020 had dropped to US$1,452.60 million compared to the same period last year that had seen earnings topping $3,072.40.
Exports to the US amounted to a drop of 51.52 per cent in earnings compared to the same period last year when earnings reached $1,342.90 million compared to this year’s $651.03 million.
Apparel trade to the EU bloc had seen a drop of 53.51 per cent this year based on cumulative data of earnings made for the period January to July that showed there were exports worth only $600.10 million made this year compared to $1290.90 million last year. (Times Online, 28.7.2020)

Twenty-three persons, including six overseas arrivals, tested positive for COVID-19 yesterday, bringing the total number of confirmed patients in the island to 2,805. Of the total patients, 950 are Navy personnel and their contacts, 908 are Sri Lankan returnees from abroad, 581 are from or contacts of the Kandakadu cluster, and 31 are foreigners. With the new patients, the total number of active cases has increased to 672, including 406 at the Kandakadu Treatment Centre, 63 at the Welikanda Base Hospital, 49 at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID), 39 at the Panagoda Army Hospital, and 36 at the Minuwangoda Base Hospital. The Epidemiology Unit adds that 35 persons are currently receiving treatment at the Kattankudy Base Hospital, 13 at the Iranawila Hospital, four at the Colombo East Base Hospital, and two at the Kamburugamuwa District General Hospital. In addition to this, 80 persons are currently being monitored at various hospitals over COVID-19 suspicions, including 18 at the Sri Jayewardenepura Hospital and 17 at the Kotelawala Defence University (KDU) Hospital. According to the Health Promotion Bureau, the country’s recovery rate is 75.64% and 2,121 persons have recovered from COVID-19 so far. This includes 15 recoveries in the 24-hour period ending at 10 a.m. yesterday, of which nine were discharged from the Kattankudy Base Hospital, four from the Panagoda Army Hospital, and one each from the NIID and the Minuwangoda Base Hospital.The Health Promotion Bureau also states that 153,065 PCR tests have been carried out so far, including 1,851 on Sunday. There are also 3,556 persons currently undergoing quarantine at 44 centres managed by the Sri Lanka Army, Sri Lanka Navy, and Sri Lanka Air Force. This includes 76 at the Boossa Quarantine Centre and 27 at the Kalpitiya Quarantine Centre, as well as 53 persons who arrived from Doha yesterday and one person who arrived from Dubai on Sunday. A total of 26,942 persons have completed the process and left quarantine centres so far, including 529 from the Boossa Quarantine Centre and 92 from the Kalpitiya Quarantine Centre. 29 persons left centres managed by the Sri Lanka Army yesterday, while 42 persons left centres managed by the Sri Lanka Navy over the weekend. The Sri Lanka Air Force also stated that 48 civilians quarantined at a centre managed by the Sri Lanka Air Force at the National Hospital for Respiratory Diseases at Welisara left the centre on Saturday. (Daily Financial Times, 28.7.2020)

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