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Church opposes government takeover of Muthurajawela wetlands

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(Vatican News) In an official Gazette notification on October 07 by the government of Sri Lanka, the Western Province’s Urban Development Authority (UDA) has decided to take over a part of the land of the Muthurajawela wetlands, situated some 30 km north of the capital Colombo, near the western coastal city of Negombo.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo, on Saturday filed a petition with the Sri Lankan Supreme Court against the appropriation, saying the project would affect the livelihoods of the people and various religious sites in the area.

On Sunday, the Archdiocese of Colombo, under whose jurisdiction comes Negombo and the marshlands, released brochures and leaflets explaining to the faithful about the possible damages the government’s move could cause.

On Tuesday, priests and nuns joined a street demonstration in Negombo in which hundreds of fishermen and women protested against the government’s move.  They also demanded justice for the families of the victims of the 2019 Easter Sunday terrorist bomb attacks.

“The acquisition of the lands will be a great disaster for the people,” said Father Jayantha Nimal, parish priest of St. Nicholas Church in Bopitiya.  Addressing the demonstrators, he urged authorities not to deprive the people of their right to live freely. “We ask the government to listen to the voice of the people,” he said, adding the acquisition of land around the wetlands will cause great damage to the environment as well as the fishing community.

Father Ranjith Terry, the parish priest of St. Mary’s Church at Pitipana in Negombo, urged people to remain united in the fight for justice.

Romel Fernando, who participated in the demonstrations, said the government wanted to undermine the activities of the priests and rights activist

Human rights activist Brito Fernando said: “We took to the streets to tell the government that we would not remain silent while our lands and sea are being taken away.”

The government’s move and the protests come as the crucial COP26 United Nations climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, are trying to decide on a final agreement to rein in global warming by slashing greenhouse gases.

Among the several respondents mentioned in Cardinal Ranjith’s writ petition are Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, State Minister of Urban Development Nalaka Godahewa, Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweera, the UDA and the Environment department.

Cardinal Ranjith said that Catholics across the island nation were appalled by the Gazette notification which would also mean the acquiring of coastal Catholic churches by the UDA. According to him, the acquisition of the part of Muthurajawela “would severely affect the livelihoods of the people living in the area.” “There are a number of religious sites”, and “religious activities would also be adversely affected,” AsiaNews reported the cardinal as saying.

Known for its unique and highly diverse ecosystem, the Muthurajawela marshlands are listed as one of the 12 priority wetlands in Sri Lanka. Besides hosting over 190 species of flora and 200 species of fauna, the area is a major local and tourist attraction, which also supports the local economy.

Kavinda Jayawardena, a Catholic lawmaker from the Jaela Gampaha district, and fishermen from the Negombo area have challenged the UDA’s land acquisition, saying it is “a violation of the fundamental human rights enshrined in the Constitution.”

The government has said that it wants to protect Muthurajawela, but it is actually planning to build a power plant that would serve the city of Colombo.

Environmentalist Dinusha Nanayakkara spoke to AsiaNews about the rich flora and fauna of the wetland, adding it is also a stopping a reproducing ground for flocks of migratory birds. Most importantly, the benefits of the wetland are not limited to the environment but also to the economy and local communities.

Nanayakkara notes that according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, flood control by the wetlands saves the Sri Lankan government an equivalent of US$ 2.4 million with an additional economic benefit of US$ 3.6 million.  The environmentalist lamented that in recent years, Muthurajawela has been facing progressive degradation with animal remains from slaughterhouses and wastewaters from illegal liquor production dumped into its streams. It has also fallen prey to illegal buildings.



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SL defenceless, warn experts

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New COVID variants

By Rathindra Kuruwita

Due to the lax testing at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA), there is a strong possibility that any new variant of COVID-19 entering the country, College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) President, Ravi Kumudesh told The Island yesterday commenting on the detection of a new coronavirus variant spreading in South Africa.

Even a travel ban would be useless unless the country enhances its testing and surveillance capacities, Kumudesh said.

Kumudesh said that PCR tests were not conducted on passengers on arrival and that it was likely that even those not fully vaccinated were entering the country. “Gene sequencing in respect of those infected with COVID inside the country was at a minimal level, and therefore, there is no way we can find out whether a new variant has entered the country until it is too late.

“There are two state-of-the-art labs in the BIA but no tests are done there. We are not ready, at all. Several nations are imposing travel bans on travellers from South Africa and the region. Perhaps, we should follow suit. However, the fact that we don’t test those coming in means that even a travel ban might be useless,” he said.

Kumudesh added that the number of PCR tests conducted had dropped to such a low level that reagents used in some labs for PCR testing are now nearing the expiry dates. The attitude of health officials at the airport is such that everyone operates on the basis that testing of passengers is not important.

Executive Director of the Institute for Health Policy (IHP), Dr. Ravi Rannan-Eliya yesterday said the detection of the new South African variant was potentially very bad news for all countries, and certainly for Sri Lanka.

“We still don’t have sufficient data on this, but I am very worried. It was only discovered a few days ago, but the scanty evidence strongly indicates that this new variant is driving a rapid increase in infections in S Africa. Only 100 cases have been confirmed officially, but reports indicate it may be 90% of new cases since Wed in Johannusburg,” he said.

Dr. Rannan-Eliya said that his best guess was that three out of four South Africans had been infected by COVID during the pandemic. Thus, a large number of them had acquired natural immunity. Moreover, 25% of others have been vaccinated.

“So this rapid spread despite a lot of immunity is very disturbing. This really points to this new variant—B1.1.529—being both more infectious and also significantly immune resistant. Something that also matches with its particular mutations,” he said.

Dr. Rannan-Eliya said he was not surprised at the emergence of the new variant because contrary to many experts who drink the kool-aid, there is no scientific basis to think SARS-CoV-2 had matured in its evolution. It might still have a lot of potential to evolve greater immune evasion and virulence, and that we should act on that basis.

“Second, because most of the world is following the misguided strategy of just accepting the virus (hey you – USA, UK, Sri Lanka…), the virus has plenty of chances to keep on mutating more because the truth is more of the virus is circulating than ever before. Third, despite a lot of nonsense about how T-cell immunity is going to protect us, there’s really no evidence that either infection or current vaccines and boosters will ever give us long-lasting immunity. We simply don’t know.”

Countries like South Africa, Peru, etc., who had such high levels of infection that much of their population was infected more than once, still continue to suffer new waves of infection.

“So this is bad news for all of us humans on planet earth, but very definitely for us in Sri Lanka. Why? Because based on how our medical establishment and govt authorities think, we will be slow or refuse to put the necessary border controls in to prevent this entering. And when it does enter-which is inevitable if this variant spreads globally–we will be slow to detect its entry, we will refuse to sound the alarm, and we will do everything but actually attempt to stop it. That’s been our track record, so why would it change? Worth noting that if this starts a new wave in Southern Africa, it’s just three to four months after their third wave. So just as immunity starts waning appreciably from natural infection (or vaccines). That gives us a strong hint of what our future holds unless we end this pandemic.”

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Navy deploys lagoon craft at Kurinchankerny until construction of new bridge

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Residents waiting for the boat

Sri Lanka Navy began providing transport facilities at the Kurinchankerny lagoon following the recent tragedy that claimed several lives. This service will continue until the construction of a new bridge at Kurinchankerny, Kinniya in Trincomalee is completed.

This initiative was set in motion following the directives of Commander of the Navy, Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne. The Navy deployed a Lagoon Craft, capable of carrying 25 passengers safely at a time from Thursday (25) under the supervision of the Eastern Naval Command. The lagoon craft will be in service from 7.00 a.m. to 8.00 a.m. and from 12.00 noon to 2.00 p.m. each day. Further, the Navy erected a temporary jetty to allow passengers to board the vessel safely.

A schoolgirl on her way to the ferry
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UN Assistant Secretary General during talks with President pledges to work closely with Sri Lanka

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The United Nations will always work closely with Sri Lanka, said Khaled Khiari, UN Assistant Secretary General for Political, Peacebuilding and Peace Operations. Khiari made these remarks when he met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Presidential Secretariat, on Thursday (25).

UN Assistant Secretary General Khiari is visiting Sri Lanka as a follow-up to the bilateral meeting with the President and the UN Secretary- General Antonio Guterres held in September this year on the sidelines of the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly. Khiari conveyed the best wishes of UN Secretary-General Guterres to President Rajapaksa and said that the UN is willing to engage in a constructive and positive engagement with Sri Lanka.

Expressing satisfaction over the President’s affection and interest in the environment, the Assistant Secretary General appreciated Sri Lanka’s commitment to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The President explained that steps are being taken to plant 100,000 mangroves with the assistance of the Navy and actions are being taken to prevent climate change through environmental conservation programmes.

President Rajapaksa expressed gratitude to the UN agencies and donors that have assisted Sri Lanka through the COVAX facility to make the vaccination drive successful and in facing other challenges in the face of the COVID-19 epidemic.

The President pointed out that the government’s development programme implemented in the North and East after the end of the war in 2009 had brought about rapid development. The President recalled his invitation made while participating in the UN General Assembly to the diaspora to work together with all communities after visiting Sri Lanka. The President said that he hoped that the invitation would be met with positive initiatives.

The two sides exchanged views on unity and relations between communities. An environment where all communities can live freely has been made available in Sri Lanka. The President pointed out that the Minister of Justice is from the Muslim community, the Attorney General is from the Tamil community and many of those holding other key posts are of different communities. President Rajapaksa said the government has undertaken a great task in building unity among the communities and therefore, no one should have any doubt in this regard.

Both sides were of the view that education was fundamental to unity among the communities. President Rajapaksa said that the process by which South Africa has been able to end apartheid and move forward will be studied and the lessons that can be learned from it and what can be implemented will be looked into. The President also expressed hope that the United Nations will provide assistance in this regard.

Secretary to the President Dr. P.B. Jayasundera and Principal Advisor to the President Lalith Weeratunga, Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in Sri Lanka Hanaa Singer-Hamdy, and Political Officer at the UN Peace Operations Department’s Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Department Chiaki Ota were also present.

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