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Covid-19 hits nine of dwindling Great Andamanese tribe

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BY S VENKAT NARAYAN

Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, August 28:

Nine cases of Covid-19 have been recorded among the Great Andamanese tribe, setting off alarm bells in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands administration. A Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG), the Great Andamanese now number only 59. While five of the coronavirus patients have recovered, the others are doing well, officials said.

What is worrying the authorities is that the four new cases have been discovered in the remote Strait Island, where the tribe is based. On Friday, a special community health officer will be reaching the island to keep a close watch on the tribe, as well as other PVTGs like the Jarawa, Shompen and Onge.

While the Union territory has seen 2,985 Covid cases (676 of which are active) and 41 deaths so far, the Great Andamanese is the first among its vulnerable tribes to be hit by the coronavirus.

Dr Avijit Roy, Joint Secretary, Health, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and the nodal officer for the Union territory’s Covid-19 response, said they had tested all the 59 Great Andamanese members — “34 in Strait Island and 24 in Port Blair” — after five of them living in Port Blair had tested positive.

He said the samples of the four on Strait Island who have tested positive were taken on August 22. “We got the report the next day. They were moved to isolation wards of G B Pant Hospital in Port Blair. They are cooperating well and recovering fast.”

Roy pointed out that unlike the other PVTGs, the Great Andamanese frequent Port Blair and the administration has built a special home for them to stay in the capital.

“The Great Andamanese are a small population but they are in touch with the general population. While no one is allowed to visit Strait Island, they are allowed to come and stay in Port Blair. So, the risk of them getting Covid was high,” Vishvajit Pandya, a renowned anthropologist and director of the Andaman and Nicobar Tribal Research and Training Institute, said.

Pandya, who has been working in the Union territory since 1983, was present when the Jarawas made first contact with the outside world in 1997. He stressed on the need to keep the tribes isolated.

“The administration should implement what it says. The Great Andaman Trunk Road has still not been shut. If the administration thinks that since the tribal groups are deep in the jungles they will not come in touch with settlers, they are wrong. Even the Jarawas, Shompens are vulnerable to Covid-19 because they engage with settlers in barter to get rice and other items. Even recently settlers were arrested inside the Jarawa reserve,” he said.

Amit Kumar Ghosh, the Superintending Anthropologist at the Anthropological Survey of India, pointed out that in the 1850s, the Great Andamanese numbered between 5,000 and 8,000. “Then a penal colony was set up and diseases like syphilis, gonorrhoea, flu and others spread. By 1901, their population had dropped to 625, and by the 1931 Census, only 90 Great Andamanese were left. By the 1960s, they were down to a mere 19, and were settled on Strait Island,” he said, highlighting the vulnerability of the PVTGs to illnesses.

Ghosh added that the danger is even higher for other tribes. “The Great Andamanese have been in contact with outsiders for the last 50 years. But a disease like this could wipe out the entire population of the Jarawas and Sentinelese.”

Roy said they were aware of the threat, and had taken appropriate measures. “No one is allowed into the areas where the tribal groups are located. All government and health officials who go there are tested for Covid prior to their visits. Only vehicles with essential commodities are moving on the Andaman Trunk Road which cuts through the Jarawa Reserve, and the drivers and others in vehicles are also tested before allowed in,” he said.

An official of the Tribal Welfare Department in-charge specifically of the Jarawas said: “A small team of ANM and department officials is posted near the forest where the tribe lives, keeping a watch while maintaining distance. All of them are housed in an isolation facility and regularly tested.”

The Andamans is home to five PVTGs, the Sentinelese, Jarawa, Great Andamanese, Onge and Shompen. This is besides the Nicobarese, who are Scheduled Tribes. The Sentinelese are the most reclusive of them all, resisting outside contact.

In November 2018, an American national, 27-year-old John Allen Chau, had been killed by the Sentinelese when he tried to illegally approach them. Officials have not managed to recover his body till date.

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Mohan Pieris to be appointed as Ambassador to the UN?

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Extensive orientation course for heads of mission deignate

Former Chief Justice, Mohan Pieris, is mentioned as likely to be appointed as Sri Lanka’s new Permanent Representative (PR) to the United Nations in New York, informed sources said.

Ms. Kshenuka Senewiratne, the serving PR, who has been recalled to Colombo is expected to be back by mid-October. A career Foreign Service office, she turned 60-years in June. The Foreign Ministry is retiring career diplomats at age sixty but political appointees beyond that age are being posted.

Eight others to be appointed heads of Sri Lanka diplomatic missions overseas have been summoned to be interviewed by the 18-member High Posts Commitee recently named by the Speaker. This committee is charged with the responsibility of screening uigh appointments including those of ambassador/high commissioner.

The former chief justice is not among them as his name, according to a ighly placed source, came up later.

Those summoned are: Admiral (Retd.) KKVP Harischandra (Afghanistan), Vishramal Sanjiv Gunasekera (Japan), Milinda Moragoda (India), Ravinatha Ariyasinha (USA), Prof. Kshanika Hirumburegama (France) and Palitha Kohona (China).

Meanwhile Foreign Secretary Jayanath Colambage has organized an intensive orientation program for the heads of mission (designate) to be held between Oct. 5 and 15 at the foreign ministry. The innaugural meeting will be addressed by Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardene and Foreign Secretary Colombage who will speak on “National interests and Sri Lanka’s foreign policy perspective.

The other resource persons include Foreign Service veterans holding senior positions in the ministry in Colombo who will speak on subjects ranging from the country’s multilateral relationship, human resource and mission management as well as overseas office management procedures relating to the appointments of heads of mission.

Ministers, senior officials including the Secretaries for the Treasury and Defence, heads of organizations like the Tea Board, the Tourist Board and Foreign Employment Bureau are among those who will address the ambassadors/high commissioner designate.

Media personalities including Mr. Amal Jayasinghe, head of the Agence France Presse Bureau here, Arjuna Ranawana, senior media practitioner and Shihar Aneez who was a Reuters correspondent will public diplomacy from the perspective of a foreign correspondent.

Retired Foreign Secretaries HMGS Palihakkra and Bernard Goonetillake are among the resource persons who will address the diplomats-designate. The group is due to call on the president and prime minister closer to their departure dates.

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Captain of stricken oil tanker MT New Diamond ordered to appear in court

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A Colombo Magistrate has issued notice on the Captain of the stricken oil tanker MT New Diamond to appear before him on September 28, Court reports said.

On Wednesday, Attorney General Dappula De Livera directed the Director of the CID to name the Captain of the Very Large Crude carrier as a suspect in the case filed over the matter.

State Counsel Nishara Jayaratne, the Coordinating Officer to the AG in an audio press release said the Attorney General is of the view the Captain of MT New Diamond had committed offences punishable under the provisions of the Marine Pollution Prevention Act, No. 35 OF 2008.

The CID was also directed to report facts against the Captain under the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure to the Magistrate’s Court.

MT New Diamond carrying a quarter of a million tonnes of crude oil caught fire on September 3 in Sri Lankan waters as the vessel was travelling from Kuwait to Piradip in India.

Sri Lankan Navy, Coastguard and Air Force, as well as the Indian coastguard, fought the fire over a number of days.

One crew member aboard is missing presumed dead and another injured sailor was brought to shore and is in a hospital in Eastern Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka is claiming Rs. 340 million as compensation from the owners of the tanker for expenses incurred by various government agencies engaged in fire-fighting and rescue operations.

(ECONOMYNEXT)

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Saaraketha modernizing Sri Lankan agriculture through Agri Tech

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When we think of greenhouses, we tend to think of the cold hills of Nuwara Eliya, old fashioned English homes and Victorian botanical gardens full of exotic plants. We don’t tend to think high-tech, modern or organic, and we certainly don’t think of Anuradhapura.

This is where Saaraketha, Sri Lanka’s only certified organic fresh fruit and vegetable retailer, has dreamt big and delivered better than anyone thought was possible. They have harnessed the future of agriculture and brought it to reality today, in the form of a greenhouse project that will see the face of Sri Lankan organic agriculture change overnight.

Not only a first for Sri Lanka, but a first for the entire region, the new Saaraketha Solar-powered Greenhouse project has a production capability of half a million square feet of controlled environment, entirely solar powered and completely carbon neutral. Projected to carry over 60 varieties of vegetables, greens and herbs, the Saaraketha Solar-powered Greenhouse Project will be able to deliver stable crops all year round, ensuring a consistent income for farmers and fixed prices for customers.

With global weather patterns constantly changing and becoming more and more unpredictable and unreliable, it is more important than ever to invest in Sri Lanka’s self-sufficiency and improve food security. And with increased understanding and awareness of the damage that pesticides do to both the environment and health, it is also the time to focus on crops and production that is genuinely good for us and planet earth, with no corners cut and with complete transparency.

Saaraketha has always led the way to ensuring traceability and transparency, launching their plant to plate tracing technology in 2019, and now they want to take it a step further.

With their founder Prasanna Hettiarachchi at the helm, they are taking on the impressive task of transforming Sri Lankan agriculture by exploring ways to harness the power of technology to ensure that farmers’ livelihoods are improved and their ability to feed the nation is stabilized.

From day one, Saaraketha has been committed to the farmers of Sri Lanka. It is their stories, their experiences and their ambitions that have inspired Saaraketha to create the platform that they have over the last nine years. And even now the Saaraketha Solar-powered Greenhouse Project is powered 80% by female farmers, all working with Saaraketha to bring excellence to our families while uplifting their own families’ futures.

To date organic in Sri Lanka was considered the privilege of the few, always the healthy but highly costly option. Normal families would prioritise their children and buy organic only for them, but that need not be the case anymore. With the Saaraketha Greenhouse Project, the prices of vegetables, greens and herbs are reducing by 50%.

Not as a one off, or a sale, but for good. From October onwards, internationally accredited, “Certified Organic” produce will be available online at www.saaraketha.com and all supermarket retailers.

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