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The success story behind developing Rathna Ella as an eco-tourism venture

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By Ifham Nizam

Rathna Ella, the 14th highest waterfall in Sri Lanka, has been developed as an eco-tourism venture by the National Ethnic Unity Foundation (NEUF) with GEF-SGP/UNDP funding.

Situated within the 345-hectare Rathna Ella Conservation forest at Hasalaka in the Kandy district, the waterfall is formed by the Hasalaka Oya, the only water source available for drinking and agricultural purposes to around 2,000 families.

On average, around 5,000 people visit the waterfall annually, of which 80% are local tourists.

“As the first step, we mobilized villagers to conserve the Rathna Ella forest by forming Soba Mithuro of Rathna Ella (Nature Friends of Rathna Ella) to regularize eco-tourism activities in the area by ensuring the safe disposal of waste, improvement of facilities available to visitors, and in general, formalize eco-tourism, while offering the villagers an opportunity to enhance their livelihoods”, says NEUF Chairman, B. W. Gunasekara.

Soba Mithuro, headed by its president and an executive committee, has a membership of 37 persons representing families of the village. It collaborates local residents, especially the youth, who are one of the main beneficiaries of the project.

Initially, the CBO (Community-based Organization) identified key issues in the Rathna Ella village due to unplanned tourism. As the project proponent, the NEUF was able to effectively mobilize villagers to conserve the environment, while giving them the opportunity to benefit from eco-tourism related activities.

The Sri Jayewardenepura University carried out water and soil analysis of the entire landscape. They collected water and soil samples for analysis to determine the health of the ecosystem of the project area.

The Mahaweli Authority supported the initiative by providing training to villagers on livelihood development activities and self-employment. It also contributed towards providing sewing machines to them.

The Department of Agriculture provided training on organic agriculture to the farmers through agricultural instructors.

As the project was an eco-tourism development venture, it was very attractive to youth and many were keen to get involved. At present, about 20 youth are actively involved in its activities. The project facilitated capacity building of youth in enhancing their ability to undertake small-scale business ventures, Gunasekara noted.

The key objectives of the project are to conserve the Rathna Ella, Kaluwawatuna Ella falls and Rathna Ella Conservation forest through the empowerment and involvement of the community and to improve the livelihoods of 20 families in the village by developing eco-tourism related income generating activities.

The initiatives of the project is to offer benefits to villagers, offer a memorable experience to tourists and contribute effectively towards the sustainability of the pristine environment and its biodiversity.

Among the work undertaken under the project include the establishment of an information outlet on the Rathna Ella village and the surrounding ecosystem. Visitors will be advised on how to behave in a manner that would preserve the environment and also on taking necessary precautions to avoid accidents.

A sales outlet was established to display locally made handicraft and food items by villagers, which helps to strengthen their livelihoods considerably.

The project has also supported the development of traditional reed handicrafts and train women to continue the traditional artisan work. Boots, torches and ropes needed for hiking are also provided to visitors.

A waste management plan is also in place with many trash bins in various places. The waste collected is recycled or safely disposed to prevent pollution and prevent injury to visitors. The project also promoted organic farming in the village, which was a relatively new concept for the farmers.

Organic farming activities promoted by the project have emphasized the production of organic fertilizer with the dual objective of safeguarding the environment and promoting eco-friendly farming practices. Promotion and familiarization of organic farming and home gardening have helped minimize chemical pollution of soil and water in the downstream area. The project has trained 15 families to make their own organic fertilizer.

Rathna Ella Conservation forest was the primary source of income for some villagers. In the past, illegal activities such as logging, gem mining and cutting trees for firewood were widespread within the forest. The eco-tourism project promoted sustainable income generating opportunities to ensure that the pressure on the forest for livelihoods was minimized.

Other products sold to visitors include dairy products, paper bags, garments, disposable masks, reed-based products, traditional foods and value added agricultural products.

Moreover, the beneficiaries also operate home-stays and camping sites, undertake grain milling, sell potted plants, paper bags and clothing items. At present, 44 individuals are engaged in home gardening, which has been introduced as an optional livelihood activity. The average monthly household income of the villagers was around Rs. 23,500 at the beginning of the project. This has now increased to Rs. 40,000 as a result of related activities.

Seed paddy varieties were also distributed among 15 families to start their own cultivation. These varieties enjoy a high demand among consumers and can fetch a good price compared to more common varieties of rice in the local market.

 During the height of Covid-19 pandemic, the tourism industry collapsed, and the villagers had few opportunities to make a living. The CBO stepped in by providing fertilizer, vegetables and grains to 43 needy families.

The possibility of marketing products at hotels, restaurants, eating houses, grocery stores and in supermarkets in the Hasalaka and Mahiyangana areas is also being explored.

The project facilitated several self-employment opportunities and small businesses for the women in the village. At present, 37 women who had been previously confined to doing household chores are self-employed, adding to the household income. They are now able to earn an average monthly income of Rs. 40,000 through their business ventures.

As there are no foreign tourists visiting the site now due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the women have started to make disposable masks to support their families, Project Coordinator, Thilina Madushanka, said.



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Govt. urged to increase nursing cadre to tackle national health crisis

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

National Coordinator, Training (Nursing) Pushpa Ramyani de Soysa says that against the backdrop of alarming increase in the number of positive Covid-19 cases, the government needs to act swiftly and decisively to strengthen the nursing staff or face the consequences.

The top nurse insists a moment cannot be wasted as the ongoing epidemic threatens to overwhelm the entire country. The nurses’ spokesperson attached to the Accident Ward of the National Hospital, Colombo, delivered the dire warning in a live interview with Dasun Wasantha on the state-run ITN yesterday (14)

The outspoken official said that at the time Covid-19 erupted in 2020, the nursing staff consisted of approximately 38,000 representing all grades. At that time, the country experienced a staggering 50 per cent dearth of trained nursing staff, de Soysa said, urging those responsible as well as the public of the urgent need to strengthen the nursing staff.

She explained how the nursing staff worked under unbearable pressure as the entire medical staff backed by the military and the police struggled to cope up with the relentless Covid-19 onslaught.

Responding to the interviewer on live ‘Hathweni Paya’ , de Soysa said that as an immediate interim measure, those who had retired in the past few years could be brought back to lessen the pressure on the staff. When The Island sought further clarification from the National

Coordinator, the nursing veteran emphasized the Covid-19 challenge had to be tackled, in addition to the regular workload. A further deterioration of the situation could cause a catastrophe, she told The Island.

The National Coordinator told the ITN as nurses couldn’t be trained overnight the way required beds and other equipment could be supplied to hospitals, hence the urgent need to bring back the retired without further delay. She repeatedly stressed the responsibility on the part of the administration whoever in power to increase the nursing staff to meet the country’s growing requirement. Acknowledging the services rendered by the health services at an extremely difficult period, nurse de Soysa underscored the critical role played by the nursing staff in the overall effort against the epidemic.

Soysa highlighted what she called a coordinating role played by the nursing staff in the treatment of persons afflicted by Covid-19 or some other illness. In the absence of sufficient number of nurses, personnel had been re-allocated, de Soysa said, pointing out that due to Covid-19 explosion patients were being accommodated at hospitals.

Commenting on challenges faced by the nursing profession, de Soysa recalled the sacrifices made during the 30-year-war that was brought to a successful conclusion in May 2009. “Regardless of d immense difficulties, the nursing staff fulfilled their responsibilities during the conflict. We’ll do the same now,” de Soysa said, pointing out as many as 270 nurses had been tested Covid-19 positive, in addition to thousands quarantined.

The National Coordinator complained about the dearth of some critically important data relevant to the Covid-19 situation needed for evaluation purposes. Timely decisions couldn’t be taken for want of updated data at global and local level, she said.

She also discussed difficulties caused by some of those seeking treatment at hospitals not being aware of their condition, hence the need to be vigilant. However, sometimes, nursing staff served without taking into consideration the grave risks them faced. A grave looking de Soysa told the ITN interviewer they couldn’t follow health guidelines. “We cannot keep one meter distance in hospitals,” de Soysa said.

Nurse de Soysa said that she received both doses of covishields vaccine as key part of overall measures in place for the protection of the medical staff.

Without referring to any political party, de Soysa explained how the political administration over the years treated the nursing staff as slaves. Government treated nursing staff as dirt, de Soysa said, recalling with gratitude how Ven Muruththettuwe Ananda thera spearheaded a campaign that paved the way for significant improvement in the nursing service. The National Coordinator said that before the Ven. Thera’s intervention, they were assigned intolerable tasks regardless of their complains.

Responding to another ITN query, de Soysa said that successive governments hadn’t responded to their call for enhancement of the nursing service with the introduction of a system to produce qualified nurses who specializes in selected fields. Although action had been taken , the entire process was proceeding at snail pace, she alleged.

The National Instructor made reference to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s 2019 presidential election manifesto that also dealt with the issue at hand. The top nurse didn’t mince her words when she pointed out that the required improvements weren’t introduced as expected, hence the need to move now.

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Coronavirus spreading fast in North

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By Dinasena Ratugamage

COVID-19 is spreading across a number of areas in the Northern province at a rapid pace, according to THE provincial health officials.

Five members of the same family in Kattakadu, Kilinochchi have contracted COVID-19 and been sent to Krishnapuram Treatment centre.

One family member is a university student, who stayed in Colombo. He returned home recently and several family members started developing Covid-19 symptoms a few days later. Health officials conducted PCR tests and found that all five family members had contracted the virus. Six other neighbouring families have been placed under quarantine.

Meanwhile, 43-year-old man was arrested by Kilinochchi Police for hoarding alcohol to be sold, at a higher price, during the current lockdown. The suspect is a resident of Kalmadukulam, Dharmapuram. He is to be produced before the Kilinochchi Magistrate’s Court.

However, most towns in the North had been deserted yesterday due to the lockdown.

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Navy nets 30 illegal migrants

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More than 30 persons were apprehended by the Sri Lanka Navy and Coast Guard in Samindugama on Thursday and Friday while they were preparing to migrate to a foreign country by boat illegally.

The owner of the house where the suspects had stayed was also arrested, together with15 others involved in human smuggling.

The suspects, residents of Jaffna, Batticaloa, Mullaitivu and Puttalam areas, were handed over to the Chilaw Police.

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