Nation 2  


Tropical ‘hotspots’ may get too warm to farm

PARIS (AFP) – Climate change is on track to disrupt lifeline food crops across large swathes of Africa and Asia already mired in chronic poverty, according to an international study released Friday.
More than 350 million people face a “perfect storm” of conditions for potential food disaster, warns the report by scientists in the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).
Temperature increases projected by UN climate scientists could, by 2050, shorten growing seasons below critical thresholds, worsen weather variability, and render many regions dominated by subsistence farming unsuitable for key crops.
If these areas have a history of persistent food shortages to begin with, the mix could be lethal.
“We are starting to see much more clearly where the effect of climate change on agriculture could intensify hunger and poverty,” said Patti Kristjanson, a scientist at CGIAR’s Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFCS).
Farmers know from experience how to cope with fickle weather patterns by changing planting schedules and moving livestock.
But rapid and major climate shifts may force them to use “entirely new crops or new farming systems,” and many may not be able to adapt, Kristjanson said.
The 100-page study identifies potential food crisis “hotspots” by overlaying three kinds of data onto global and regional maps.
One identifies areas likely to heat up beyond optimal conditions – or even outright tolerance – for major crops, including rice, maize (corn) and beans.
Average maximum temperatures during growing seasons, for example, are poised to rise above 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) across parts of west and southern Africa, India and China by 2050.
In some agricultural zones growing seasons may be shortened by at least five percent, and in others year-on-year variation in rain will likely to exceed 21 percent, both considered viability thresholds for certain crops, the study found.

Pakistan jacks up annual defence spending
ISLAMABAD (AFP) – Pakistan’s government jacked up defence spending and government employees’ pensions in a new budget on Friday that set a deficit of four percent of GDP.
The budget for the fiscal year 2011-2012 starting July 1 came as pressure mounts on Pakistan to launch a military offensive in the restive North Waziristan region, known as the hub of Taliban and Al Qaeda-linked militants.
It earmarked 495 billion rupees ($5.7 billion) for defence, an 11 per cent increase on the current year.
“We stand by our valiant men, who are laying down their lives to safeguard our country,” finance minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh told parliament.
“The country has constantly been suffering because of the existing security situation” but the government was determined to improve the economy and provide security to the people, he said.
More than 4,410 people have been killed across Pakistan in bomb blasts and suicide attacks blamed in Taliban- and Al-Qaeda-linked militants since July 2007.
The Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for a string of recent attacks against government security forces, vowing to launch even larger ones to avenge the killing of Osama bin Laden, shot dead in a US raid last month.
Indian guru on hunger strike over graft
Baba Ramdev, India’s most celebrated yoga guru, has begun a “fast-unto-death” in an effort to raise awareness against rampant corruption in the country.
The guru began his indefinite fast in New Delhi early on Saturday, joined by thousands of his supporters.
Ramdev pressed ahead with his much-publicised fast after several federal ministers dispatched by prime minister Manmohan Singh failed to persuade him to call off his protest.
Senior minister Kapil Sibal, who led the talks with the guru, said on Friday that the government “had a constructive dialogue on the issues. We are very happy with the progress”.
But he added that “we cannot expect that these issues can be resolved today because they have long-term implications”.
Before launching the fast, Ramdev held a yoga and prayer session during which he told the gathering that his protest was intended to “save the country from corruption and ensure that the poor get a good life”.
He wants the government to bring back “unaccounted wealth” that the corrupt have allegedly stashed away in foreign banks.
The government fears the protest, by the guru whose televised yoga lessons reach 30 million viewers and whose empire is worth $40m, could fuel voter anger.
No proof vegetables behind bacteria outbreak: Lab
ROME (AFP) – Scientific tests have failed to support the hypothesis that contaminated vegetables are behind a deadly bacteria outbreak in Europe, the EU’s Reference Laboratory for E. coli in Rome said on Friday.
“Alarmism over the consumption of vegetables is not justified... since laboratory analyses do not support the hypothesis that contaminated vegetables were the source of the infection,” the laboratory said in a statement.
The laboratory, part of Italy’s Higher Institute for Health (ISS), said it would be sufficient to follow basic kitchen hygiene to avoid infection, such as washing your hands after handling food and ensuring knives are clean.
“The only previous detection of a similar strain, although with a different serotype was carried out in ISS laboratories in relation to a small epidemic of haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS) in France,” it said.
HUS, a kidney disease, usually affects children and can be life-threatening.
The laboratory said the strain “cannot be considered mutant... but rather a strain originating from the acquisition of new genes.”
The current outbreak has now spread to 12 countries and appears to be stabilising, a senior German doctor said Friday, as the death toll rose to 19.
Rare tiger killed in Nepal
KATHMANDU (AFP) – A rare wild tiger, nursed back to health by Nepalese vets after being injured, has been killed by poachers, a wildlife official said on Friday.
The adult male tiger, which had been fitted with a collar carrying a GPS tracking system that allowed scientists to monitor its adaptation back into the wild, was killed two weeks ago, the official said.
Tikaram Adhikari, a warden at Bardia National Park in Nepal’s southern plains where the endangered animal was released, said the tiger, was last captured by the tracking system on May 9.
“For two days following that, we could not locate it. Then, early this week, we found out it had been killed by poachers,” he said.
“The tiger was moving towards human settlements. After seeing it, the poachers offered the animal pieces of poisoned beef. It died after consuming the food,” Adhikari said.
The tiger had been named Namobuddha by park authorities.
Four locals have been arrested on suspicion of poaching, Adhikari said.
The tiger was captured by wildlife officials after being injured and wandering into a tourist resort in southern Nepal.
It was released into Bardia national park as it was an ideal home for the animal because it of its vast size, available prey and relatively low levels of poaching, authorities said.
Using the tracking system, “we were hoping to gain valuable insights into its movement and habitat,” Adhikari said.
Syria: bloody protests over the slaying of 30 children
Alarmed by the impact of a widely circulated video showing the corpse of a 13-year-old boy allegedly tortured to death while in prison, the government instituted an internet shutdown.
The death of Hamza el-Khatib spurred tens of thousands of demonstrators to join marches across the country.
Activists said up to 150,000 people gathered in the northern city of Maarat an-Numan, which, if confirmed, would be by far the largest protest since protests began in March.
The violence, which killed at least 34 people, was centred on the historically volatile city of Hama, scene of the worst civilian massacre in modern Syrian history. In 1982, government forces put down an Islamist uprising, killing 20,000 people.
Yesterday’s violence came after protesters attempted to burn down the local headquarters of the ruling Ba’ath party. Some in the crowd were said to be carrying hunting rifles. An estimated 50,000 people rallied against Mr Assad.
Security forces unleashed “intense gunfire” against the crowd as they marched and the death toll was likely to rise, said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the London-based Syrian observatory for human rights.
Protesters also came under live fire in a district of Damascus and two eastern towns as a call to observe a “Day of Child Martyrs” after Friday prayers was met with an unprecedented response.
“Yet again the Syrian government has shown an abhorrent disregard for human life as ordinary Syrians took to the streets today in memory of the innocent children who have died during the unrest,” said Alistair Burt, Foreign Office minister for the Middle East.
The previously flagging protest movement has been given renewed impetus by horror over Hamza el-Khatib’s death. Activists say the images of his mutilated body show that he was repeatedly subjected to cigarettes burns, electric shocks and beatings. He also had his neck broken, his penis cut off and was shot through both arms and his head.
Many other children have become victims of regime repression.
(The Telegraph)



Israel pledges development support for Lanka
By Wasantha Siriwardena
Outgoing Israel Ambassador to Sri Lanka Mark Sofer, who was based in New Delhi, India, bid farewell after four years’ stint.
Briefing a media gathering in Colombo last week, he said: “Any individual report or a report published by any institution is not going to solve issues faced by a country. The Sri Lankan Government should focus on rebuilding the North and East.” He made this comment referring to the Darusman report on alleged human rights violations in Sri Lanka.
“We would like to work closely with the Sri Lankan Government on this. We are confident that President Mahinda Rajapaksa is capable of handling this kind of situation. Israel has been with Sri Lanka in troubled times in the past. We believe that our two countries can work together in future to create a win-win situation.”
Ambassador Sofer reiterated Israel’s commitment to peace and emphasised zero tolerance to terrorism; “Both our countries have suffered a lot from terrorism. There were many similarities and situations experienced by the two countries.”
“We learnt about suicide bombing from here. We don’t consider Bin Ladens of the world as guarding lights. Human rights should be equal throughout the world. Look at Libya, they were once the head of UN Human Rights Commission. See what’s happening there? And Syria, they massacre their own people,” he alleged.
Sofer said that he was in Sri Lanka when the LTTE bombed a train in Colombo.
Explaining Israel’s plans on giving assistance to Sri Lanka, he said: “There is a lot of scope in tourism and agriculture in Sri Lanka. We are ready to help Sri Lanka in many ways with technology, especially in the agriculture sector. We would be assisting Sri Lanka to improve dairy farming and milk production with the best mechanism and also planning to set up two model farms in Sri Lanka. We have already identified two locations here.”
On the rehabilitation process, he said: “We will provide humanitarian assistance to war victims such as psychiatric treatment and counselling, by providing professional psychologists and psychiatrists.”
Replying a query about employment opportunities for Sri Lankans in Israel, he said: “Due to strict laws in Israel we cannot assure opportunities for outsiders. But there are possibilities for skilled people in technical and agricultural sectors.”
Ambassador Sofer took over the Israel Diplomatic Mission in New Delhi in 2007.
JANASEVANA Housing Programme exceeds set target

Translate Mahinda Chintanaya promise into reality: Wimal

Janasevana One Million Houses and Housing and Habitat Development Program has exceeded its target set for the first quarter of this year. The number of houses currently under construction has topped the 22,000 mark. Meanwhile, the Ministry has received requests for loans and guidelines for the construction of another 20,000 houses. This information transpired during a progress review conference held in Colombo recently with Construction, Engineering Services, Housing and Common Amenities Minister Wimal Weerawansa in the chair.
It also transpired at this conference that there is a strong possibility of exceeding the annual target of 60,000 houses by the end of the current year. Addressing this meeting, Minister Weerawansa told the relevant officials to ensure that the target set for the year is achieved.
“Judging by the enthusiasm being shown by the people, there is a strong possibility that the targets set for the 2nd and the 3rd quarters of the year too will be exceeded. In this context, it is imperative that the officials concerned take prompt action to sort out the practical difficulties that the prospective house builders may encounter,” the Minister told the officials.
Minister Weerawansa also told the meeting that plans are underway for the NHDA to step in to provide housing credit to prospective house builders who find it difficult to raise necessary loans from commercial banks. The Minister emphasized the need to provide housing to every family without a permanent abode without discrimination on any grounds to translate the promise held out under the Mahinda Chintanaya into reality.
JKH releases Sustainability Report 2010/11
Sustainability is in the DNA of John Keells
The John Keells Holding’s Sustainability Report 2010/2011, released on May 30, 2011 sums up the Group’s commitment to Sustainability integration across its businesses.
Sustainability has carved its own niche in the bigger picture of the business world, and stakeholders - be it investors, customers, suppliers or employees - are now increasingly becoming aware of the importance of seamless integration of Sustainability into all aspects of business. The John Keells Group fully appreciates its significance, and thereby has embraced Sustainability as being intrinsically interwoven with what we do and hence is in the DNA of our business processes.
Last year, the Group committed itself to upholding and integrating Sustainability into the value chain of all its sectors, focusing not just on its financials, but also on its economic, environmental and social performance. This year, our Sustainability process has been taken one step further, by decentralising the process to all our business units in order to align the Group’s strategic and operational objectives. The main focus of this process was to integrate the objectives of Sustainability with those of the businesses and ensure they are practised across the Group. A key change brought about was that the Sustainability goals and targets deliverable were determined by the individual business units, thereby facilitating their integration not only as an operational guideline but also as performance targets for each business.
The Group’s Sustainability Report this year, similar to last year, was compiled at a GRI disclosure Level B(+), and has achieved a GRI Application Level Check; it has also been assured by a third party. The Group’s decentralized Sustainability process has been a very insightful and extremely advantageous exercise as it has made the businesses look very closely at its operations and understand their impacts. This continuous Sustainability process has now become entrenched across the Group’s business units and has formed an integral part of our business practices in the review of all our operations and our stakeholder touch points. The benefits of the Group’s Sustainability integration - tangible and intangible - can now be felt across the Group. This progressive approach will ensure that Sustainability at the John Keells Group is, indeed, here to stay.
SriLankan gets EU green light for key environmental initiative

SriLankan Airlines became one of the first airlines in the world to completely satisfy a key environmental requirement of the European Union (EU) with regard to monitoring of aircraft emissions, as part of a general initiative to better protect the environment.
SriLankan carried out comprehensive collection of emissions data from its entire fleet of aircraft throughout 2010, and the EU on April 27, 2011 approved the benchmarking of this data. This signifies acceptance of SriLankan Airlines’ Aircraft Emissions Monitoring System, approving the high standard of the state-of-the-art system that was developed by the airline itself.
SriLankan’s Head of Flight Operations, Captain Navin De Silva, said: “SriLankan is proud to continue its pioneering role in environmental conservation. Only a handful of airlines have so far satisfied the EU’s tough new requirement. We have already gained a reputation as an airline that is focused on protecting the environment, notably through our ‘Planet Friendly Flights’ programme.”
Following an audit by SGS of the UK, the Environment Agency of the UK (the agency authorized by the EU) recommended the data collected by SriLankan’s system throughout the year 2010 as being 100% compliant with EU regulations in terms of accuracy.
Kamal Nanayakkara, SriLankan’s Head of IT, said: “What is most significant is that our Emissions Monitoring System was developed completely in-house, in sharp contrast to most other airlines which are purchasing very expensive systems from IT software vendors.”
SriLankan’s Emissions Monitoring System has already come to the limelight when it won a Merit Award at the National Best Quality Software Awards 2010 (NBQSA), for innovations in Information Technology. The system itself was designed by SriLankan’s Information Technology Division and the Aviation Fuel Department of Flight Operations, saving a considerable cost versus obtaining a similar system from an external vendor. It monitors emissions throughout a flight, and uploads the data directly from every aircraft.
SriLankan’s Manager Aviation Fuel, Capt. Anushad Liyanagoda, said: “The EU’s tough new regulations for the airline industry have made monitoring of aircraft emissions mandatory. Non-compliance could even lead to individual airlines being banned from operating in European skies. So the acceptance of our system ensures the uninterrupted continuation of all our services to Europe and also qualifies SriLankan for the maximum possible amount of financial credit.”
The EU has formulated a system where airlines that do not satisfy the emissions monitoring requirements would be levied financial penalties starting in 2012 that could amount to millions of dollars (billions of rupees). However, airlines could obtain up to 100% free allowances from this - 85% through its Emissions Monitoring System, and 15% by investment in other environment friendly projects. SriLankan has now obtained the full 85% waiver, and is presently in discussions with local companies that have accrued carbon credits to enter into partnerships with them and obtain the remaining 15% waiver.
The airline has in the past several years adopted a wide range of fuel conservation measures, as well as energy saving, recycling and other initiatives, which have drawn the attention of conservationists.

xAccessibility Advisor and Disability Activist Dr. Ajith C. S. Perera presented to US Ambassador Patricia A. Butenis a copy of his book “Access Ability for All” together with a copy of the recent Supreme Court order that mandates that public buildings must be designed and constructed according to statutory standards that ensure optimum accessibility and safety



Arisen Ahubudu honoured

External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris delivered an address of appreciation of the life and work of the Late Kalasuri Arisen Ahubudu, at S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia, on Wednesday. The late Kalasuri was the Minister’s teacher.
Warden the Rev. John Puddefoot, the staff and students of the College attended the Special Assembly, held in the College Hall, at which the address was delivered. The son of the late Kalasuri Arisen Ahubudu was present.
Kalasuri Ahubudu was a highly respected teacher at S. Thomas’ College for more than 35 years

Moment with the President at Temple Trees

Ms. Shanthi Indurugolla, the teacher in charge of Form 6N of Colombo Royal College with the approval of Principal Upali Gunasekera and Vice Principal Sumedha Jayaweera organized a visit of students in her class to the Temple Trees recently, the official residence of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Here, the students who received a warm welcome from the President pose for a picture with him on the occasion