India, Sri Lanka finalizing plans to restart ferry service

Feb 19 2016, New Delhi: India and Sri Lanka have mooted to resume a ferry service from Kochi to Colombo to enhance the ties between the two countries and are in the process of finalizing the ways the service should be offered, according to a report in New Indian Express.

“The ferry service is mooted between Kochi in Kerala to Colombo. We are finalizing the modalities and working out if it would be purely a passenger service. To make it economically viable, we will include freight service,” an official of India’s Ministry of External Affairs was quoted as saying.

According to the report, the three-decade long ethnic strife in Sri Lanka had adversely impacted its ties with India and after the 1983 ethnic cleansing of Tamils in Sri Lanka, over 100,000 Tamil refugees had landed in Tamil Nadu, triggering a sympathy wave in the state and severing the sea link from Chennai although the air-link between the two countries remained.

In 2011, a ferry service was resumed between Thoothukudi in south Tamil Nadu to Colombo, but it was stopped due to less traffic.
There has been demand to revive the links between Tamil Nadu and the Tamil-speaking north and north-eastern part of Sri Lanka Jaffna and Trincomalee. “Considering the political sensitivities around the revival of the transport links, we would like to go one step at a time,” the official added.
Ferries are one of the cheapest modes of transport and will be within the framework of increasing connectivity under the BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) regional forum

 

Saving the world, one whale shark at a time

(Op-ed by Ms. Francoise Jacob, Director and Representative of the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) for Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Maldives In light of World Oceans Day 8th June ).
A couple of months ago, while underwater just a few miles off the coast of Colombo, I had a chance encounter with an extraordinary being. As we meandered in and out of a coral-covered wreck, this gigantic creature appeared from the dark depth, a massive whale shark with dozens of little fish swimming gracefully by its side, like a king moving with his court.

The shark stayed with us for almost 40 minutes. He kept circling us, coming closer and closer, shifting on its side to watch us, seemingly loving the attention, the bubbles and all the camera work going on around him. Eventually we had to leave it because of our own body’s limitations to sustain such depth.

At some point, the shark and us got swallowed in a huge and swirling school of small yellow fish, abundant and joyful. Honestly, this was one of the most overwhelming moments I have experienced in a long time. I was crying in my mask, and I was not the only one. The diver next to me was just as emotional.

Most of us, the 7 billion humans, actually never see what is underwater. No wonder we don’t care enough about it, despite the fact that life began in the seas, and the Planet is sustained by the oceans. We forget that climate and weather systems depend on the temperature patterns of the ocean and its interactions with the atmosphere. We ignore that oceans absorb carbon dioxide, and as we emit more, the oceans also absorb more. This results in acidification of the waters, which in turn, damages different types of life. We vaguely know that warm waters kill corrals, but we don’t know why this is so dramatic, and anyway, it’s only the Great Barrier Reef way out in Australia, right?

At the same time, because of the immensity of the oceans, we get tricked into thinking that we can throw anything into it, and catch as much as we want from it without any significant consequences. Every so often we hear of a “disaster”, such as the recent oil spill off the port of Colombo last week, or the unexplained millions of dead fish that washed on the Mullaitivu beach a few days ago. We read about collective suicides where 300 whales have beached themselves and died for an unknown reason.

But it does not quite affect us, and we move on. Plenty more under, isn’t there?

When you dive, you suddenly become much more aware about 2 things: the underwater world is a magical, colourful and incredibly bountiful world. And we, the humans, are causing extensive and relentless damages to this vital resource: the massive overfishing around the globe; the spillages from the gigantic urban settlements, from coastal industries or commercial ships, the polluted discharges from rivers with fertilizer runoffs; the trash litter on the ocean floor, the fish and birds dying from swallowing plastics or getting entangled in them – by 2050 the sea could contain more plastic than fish by weight, according to research done for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

In Sri Lanka, fish caught in the nets are getting smaller and smaller, yet the number of fishing boats have expanded dramatically in the past 12 years in both the coastal seas and the high seas. Half of the harvest in Sri Lanka is for exports, a revenue stream that creates a strong incentive for more fishing. Yet fleets in large harbours such as Negombo are already affected, as the cost of operations topple the revenues from harvest. And a good chunk of that harvest is wasted on a daily basis due to poor handling. Around the world, 30% of the fish species are already harvested beyond their sustainability level, which means the related fish stock is shrinking. Add to this the pollution on the coastal areas, which serve as reproduction and nursery grounds for many ocean species, and the warming up of waters which forces some species to move closer to the poles. You start to get the picture of what’s coming up if we don’t react, as individuals, as countries, and as humanity?

The good news is that there is still a lot we can do to reverse this process, while achieving the targets set under Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG 14 Life Below Water).

International treaties and calls for action are important, because they open the path for countries to reframe their own national jurisdictions, policies and regulations. Although it seems sometimes like more bureaucracy, global treaties have been successful in advancing human rights, and tackling global issues such as the depletion of the ozone layer. Sri Lanka is part of many such agreements including the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Beyond the work done at country level, the role and impact of coastal cities and settlements are becoming more evident. As seen last week in the wake of the US announcement on its withdrawal from the Paris agreement, cities or even coalition of cities have committed to stick to the COP 21 commitments, or even outdo them. Municipal councils, along with regulatory bodies, have a key role to play in ensuring that pollution of all kinds is addressed and curbed immediately.

A most critical and sensitive issue is how Sri Lanka manages and regulates its High Seas and large Marine Ecosystems, and how it regulates fishing and other economic activities in its surrounding waters and within the Exclusive Economic Zone (which is 7 times the size of the country!). Enforcement of regulations in both national and international waters is just as critical for fish stock as it is to peace, to avoid the multiplication of incidents between local and foreign fleets. Monitoring of fish stocks both in coastal areas and in deep waters has started in a more systematic matter, and it is hoped that action will follow to adjust and redress negative trends.

The private sector has an equally critical responsibility and role to play in the sustainability equation. In particular, large export oriented fishing companies, or high polluting industries. There again, a combination of systematic enforcement of regulations by the appropriate government bodies, and of pro-active, responsible exploitation by the private sector will be required to turn the tide. The tourism industry in all its shape must play a very essential role of containing, and then reducing pollution, limiting overcrowding of natural sites, and ensuring the quality and sustainability of its supply chains. The same apply to the agri business, to reduce the fertilizer and pesticide pollution.

Last, not least, it is YOU, and me, all of us humans, who can make the biggest difference in restoring the oceans to their best natural state. By changing our behaviours and habits, by lobbying with our politicians, by informing our children, by setting trends in our offices, by supporting community led initiatives, there are so many ways we can contribute.

On June 8, we celebrate World Oceans Day. It cannot be a perfunctory celebration any longer.

In Sri Lanka, the United Nations works on key areas around fisheries, marine infrastructure, marine pollution, bio-diversity, treaty implementation.

The United Nations is organising a high level conference on June 5 to June 9 at the UN Headquarters in New York: the ‘Ocean Conference’ is expect to draw support to the implementation of SDG 14: conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

The conference will adopt by consensus a concise, focused, inter-governmentally agreed declaration in the form of a ‘Call for Action’ to support the implementation of SDG 14 and a report containing the co-chairs’ summaries of the partnership dialogues, as well as a list of voluntary commitments for the implementation of Goal 14. Sri Lanka is one of the countries that will provide very substantial input in the conference.

Let this not be just an exercise for diplomats!

As I watched the shark watching me, I knew at that moment that his life was just as important as mine to keep this beautiful planet alive. And I knew that I have to step up my own work to protect this underworld. So I am asking you here again to take small steps every single day and contribute to saving the planet and its amazing diversity. There are many things we can do as individuals and as voters, such as banning plastic in our lifestyle, reducing our consumption of fish and meat, ride a bike to work, consume mindfully and lead a more simple life in tune with Nature. Please, don’t underestimate your own power to contribute and make life changing and planet saving decisions!

About the Writer:

Ms. Francoise Jacob is the Director and Representative of United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) for Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Maldives and is based in Colombo. She is a passionate environmentalist who continues to champion individual responsibilities to safeguard our planet and the oceans, and also an avid diver.

 

Korean community donate relief goods for Sri Lanka’s flood victims and the bereaved families

June 06, Colombo: The Korean Businessmen’s Association (KBA) of Sri Lanka has donated relief goods worth of about Rs. 15 million to Sri Lanka Police on 02 June 2017, The Korean Embassy in Colombo said in a release.

The donation included 5,000 pairs of long boots, 10,000 pairs of rubber gloves, 1,000 pairs of gloves for industrial use and 2,500 soaps.

The goods will be distributed to the people affected by the recent floods and landslides as soon as possible. The relief items were sponsored by member companies of the KBA, such as S&S Lanka Gloves Ltd. (S&S) and Carnival World Ltd.

Apart from this, one of Korea’s leading companies, SK Energy and Service (SK E&S) has made a cash donation of USD 20,000 as relief assistance to the Sri Lankan Embassy in Korea.

Meanwhile, the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) is also expediting the process to deliver humanitarian assistance worth of USD 300,000 (comprising family tents, blankets and tarpaulins) which the Korean Government pledged to provide to Sri Lanka following the disaster.

 

Korea approves US$ 200m for Sri Lanka’s Kandy tunnel construction project

June 06, Colombo: The Ministry of Strategy and Finance of Korea has approved US$ 200 million for the Kandy tunnel construction project, Korean Embassy in Sri Lanka announced.

The project comprises of four tunnels with a total length of 5.5km from Suduhumpola to Tennekumbura via Bogambara and Ampitiya which will be the longest tunnel in Sri Lanka.

Korea Exim bank will finance this project with a very concessional EDCF loan of 0.15 percent interest rate and 40 year repayment period including 10 year grace period.

The project executing agency will be the Ministry of Highways and Higher Education of Sri Lanka, while the project implementing unit will be the Road Development Authority.

The main objective of the project is to ease the traffic congestion at center of Kandy by constructing by-pass tunnels for many vehicles wanting to go to the West or the East of Kandy without entering Kandy lake road.

After established, the tunnel is expected to reduce the passing time from Suduhumpola to Tennekumbura from 2 hours to less than 30 minutes at rush hours.

Therefore, the Kandy tunnel will save colossal waste of money due to extra fuel combustion and increased air pollution near the Sri Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic).

In addition, the tunnel may boost the economy of Kandy by providing a short connection between the Kandy industrial zone and the road (A1) to Colombo where container terminals for export are located.

Korean government’s decision to finance US$ 200 million for this project comes at a significant time as this year marks the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Sri Lanka and the Republic of Korea.

 

Sri Lanka named Asia’s leading destination 2017

June 06, Colombo: Sri Lanka showing its prestige as a tourist destination has claimed the titles of Asia’s Leading Destination 2017 and Asia’s Leading Adventure Tourism Destination 2017 over the weekend.

At the World Travel Awards Asia & Australasia 2017 held in Shanghai on 4th June Sri Lanka took the title of Asia’s Leading Destination this year reflecting the country’s tourism services and tourist attractions

The country also won the title of Leading Adventure Tourism Destination 2017 for the region, beating China, India, Japan, Nepal, Thailand and Vietnam.

The prestigious gala event Hosted by the luxury Grand Kempinski Hotel in Shanghai, was attended by 250 hospitality leaders from across the regions.

Sri Lanka Tourism’s latest win for the tourism sector indicates that Sri Lanka is emerging as a widely popular destination among tourists for its vivid attractions including beaches, wildlife safaris and rich and ancient cultural heritage.

Along with its native land mammals – elephants, leopards and wild buffalos – the island’s marine surroundings make the destination one of the best for whale and dolphin watching.

Sri Lanka is also known among thrill-seekers for offering top-notch surfing and diving experiences, jungle treks, hikes and elephant-riding and rock-climbing adventures.

In addition Sri Lanka’s national carrier SriLankan Airlines was recognized as Asia’s Leading Cultural Airline 2017 and Casa Colombo won the title of Asia’s Leading Design Hotel 2017.

Winners are based on an online voting process cast by industry leaders and travel professionals.

 

Thailand, Sri Lanka prepare trade pact Please credit

Thailand and Sri Lanka are set to sign a free trade agreement (FTA) later this year, aiming to triple bilateral trade to US$1.5 billion (52.5 billion baht) over the next five years.

Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, who met with Malik Samarawickrama, Sri Lanka’s Development Strategies and International Trade Minister, yesterday said the two countries aimed to sign the FTA this August, when he is scheduled to lead Thai investors to visit Sri Lanka.
Mr Somkid said he also proposed that Thailand and Sri Lanka conduct parallel strategic cooperation in certain areas which will expedite mutual economic benefits for the two countries, as FTAs require time for negotiations.

The cooperation is set to be conducted both on a government-to-government and private-to-private basis.
Mr Somkid said the sectors in which Sri Lanka is eager to attract Thai investment include jewellery, electronics, consumer products and industrial estates.

He suggested that industrial estate development be implemented in the same way as at the Tilawa industrial estate in Yangon, a joint project between the state and private sector in Myanmar which has helped speed up development.

Mr Somkid said Sri Lanka is a significant strategic location for Thai investors, thanks to its cheap labour.

He also noted that Sri Lanka already has FTAs in place with India and Pakistan, two large markets. China has already invested in building a large port which will be instrumental in boosting Sri Lanka’s shipments to the western market.

Sri Lanka and Thailand began looking at formulating a FTA last year when Mr Somkid made an official visit to the island nation.
The two countries also signed a memorandum of understanding on technical cooperation, a letter of intent on cooperation in small and medium-sized enterprise development and a joint action programme on tourism for the 2016-2018 period.

According to the Commerce Ministry, two-way trade between Thailand and Sri Lanka totalled $476.9 million in 2016, down 2.3% from a year before.
Exports accounted for $436.9 million, up 0.67%, while imports were down 26.1% to $39.9 million.

 

Sri Lanka hits the safari spot for leopards, elephants, sloth

Leopards can be found anywhere, according to our guide Hari. On the ground. Sprawled on giant granite boulders. Lounging in trees. Even basking on the beach, sometimes. But on a morning safari into Yala National Park, the 100,000ha wildlife sanctuary beside the Indian Ocean in Sri Lanka’s southeast, leopards are nowhere to be seen.

The only spotted creatures in sight are deer. There are posing peacocks, a still-life sambar with magnificent antlers, crocodiles, buffalo and serpent eagles, a lone elephant and, just as we’re about to head back, a sloth bear. The most remarkable thing about our bear sighting is that we are all alone on the Yala plains when it happens. This is Sri Lanka’s most visited national park; in peak season there can be 500-600 safari vehicles waiting impatiently at dawn for the gates to open. Today there are maybe 200 and not one disturbs our magical bear moment.


Sloth bears are sweet-looking creatures with pale snouts and white ruffs on black fur coats. Ours is cuter than most because he has a limp, a legacy of that time a few years back when he got so drunk on fermented rosewood berries he fell out of a tree and broke his leg. The sight of a wonky sloth bear cheers me so much I forget all about leopards. Senior ranger Haritha Pilapitiya seems pleased with the sighting too, and he’s in this park every day. I ask him what’s the most incredible thing he’s ever seen at Yala. “An eight-foot crocodile being eaten by a python,” he says, putting our quaint little bear into startling context.

Hari and I and a Sydney couple are game-drive buddies at Chena Huts, an exclusive 28-guest property that is both safari camp and beachfront lodge. Chena opened a year ago on several hectares tucked between the Indian Ocean and Yala. If guests are lucky they may see, from the stilted deck of the lodge restaurant, an elephant lumbering down the beach or sea turtles laying their eggs by moonlight. If unlucky, they might encounter a cobra. That’s Sri Lanka’s great outdoors for you — wildly unpredictable.

The resort takes its design cues from nature and its low thatched roofs, teak boardwalks and fences of cinnamon twigs merge into the bushland. Lavish sheets of glass in huts and communal spaces showcase ocean and waterhole views. “Huts’’ is a misnomer because Chena’s 14 jungle suites sprawl across 105sq m each, including a pool deck, and are hermetically sealed against bugs and beasts.

Coolly chic interiors feature vast sleeping platforms with ornamental woodpile bedheads, rich-grained teak floors and a vaulted dome frame that lends a faint ecclesiastic air. With complimentary minibars, every bathroom amenity imaginable, flat-screen TVs and Bluetooth speakers, these are among the best-equipped and best-looking safari lodges imaginable.

The remainder of the resort comprises a two-room spa, communal pool and the Basses Restaurant on the shore. The restaurant is named after two lighthouses off this shipwreck coast; one of which, Great Basses Reef, is visible from the dining room and terrace. (There’s a permanent blue whale population that lives in a channel beside the reef. Boat charter operators promise guests a 95 per cent chance of spotting the world’s largest animal.)

All meals are taken in the restaurant. Room service is banned to avoid wild animals — especially wily langurs that lurk in surrounding trees — associating the accommodation with food. Restaurant meals are three-course affairs of western, Sri Lankan and international dishes and are well-presented and adequate, and the seafood is fished straight from the ocean out front.

Elephants are one of the many animals that can be spotted on safari at Yala.
The only downside to being this close to a pristine beach is that guests are not allowed to walk on it unless accompanied by a ranger, for those reasons stated above (see: elephant, cobra). So there are no morning runs or moonlit strolls to be had, and the sea is too dangerous for swimming. But Hari leads a pleasant sunrise nature walk along the coastline into the national park, though visitors should not expect to meet any animals. In-room compendiums specifically advise, “The aim of the walk is not to get close to animals.” Hari carries pepper spray in his utility belt just in case a drunken bear picks a fight.

Chena’s proximity to Yala is a gift to guests. It’s the closest lodge to Gate I, which offers some of the park’s best wildlife sightings and the largest leopard population. Resort drivers depart very early each morning to secure pole position at the gate. We leave camp at a more leisurely 5.15am and drive straight to the front of the pack, presumably to the envy of the many dozens of open-sided jeeps queued outside.

“It’s really nice being the first person in the park because you get to see a lot more,” Hari says. But we are first for only a fleeting second. When gates open at 6am, all hell breaks loose. Daredevil jeeps fly past like a South Asian leg of the Dakar Rally. We motor along calmly as the scrum roars ahead down the red dirt track. “We try to take the Chena standard into the park,” Hari explains as I stare slack-jawed after the pack. Afternoon game drives are far less feral because visitors can come and go as they please.

The landscapes inside Yala, a former Raj-era hunting ground, are surprisingly diverse. There are plains carpeted green after recent rains, and metamorphic boulders strewn about like the ruins of some ancient civilisation but not to be confused with the actual ancient ruins of Buddhist monasteries still found in the sanctuary. There are wet forests, dry forests, thorn forests, marshes and empty stretches of golden shoreline. The air echoes with the screams of peacocks and the weary sighs of water buffalo as we motor past Lake Vilapala and come to a screeching halt. Leopard! In the bush, just there, to my right, maybe 8m away.

Unfortunately we are not alone for this sighting and the euphoria of spotting a big cat is marred by the hysteria of 10 jeeps revving and reversing to fit, Tetris-like, into the tightest possible space so everyone gets an eyeful of Panthera pardus kotiya, Sri Lanka’s endemic leopard. Yala has the highest density of any leopard species on Earth.

The considerate female waits until our jeeps are locked in and cameras poised before crossing the track, tail twitching like a vane in the wind, to conceal herself in lakeside scrub and, with luck, catch a nice spotted deer for tea.

Snap, snap, press, whirr, record. Everyone is madly clicking, zooming and filming, witnessing this wonder through their viewfinders. This is that delirious moment where holiday dreams and reality meet and, given the leopard lingers in plain sight for more than five minutes, it exceeds all expectations. This is what we travelled across the world to see. The bear was a bonus.

Kendall Hill was a guest of India Unbound.

CHECKLIST

Yala National Park is open year-round except for six weeks from September to mid-October when it closes for maintenance and the leopard breeding season. More: yalasrilanka.lk. Rates at Chena Huts average $850 a night and include all meals, most beverages, twice-daily game drives, park fees, laundry and minibar. More:

ugaescapes.com.

India Unbound designs custom-made journeys of India and Sri Lanka while sister company Remarkable East specialises in small group tours. A Sri Lanka in Style tour departs in June. More: indiaunbound.com.au; remarkableeast.com.au. Singapore Airlines flies from most Australian capitals to Singapore with regular onward connections to Colombo;

 

Sri Lanka’s antivenom leap forward by making its own antivenom

Colombo, Sri Lanka – In 2006, a Russell’s viper sank one fang into Sanath Weeraratne’s left hand.

Weeraratne immediately started to bleed profusely as the anticoagulant properties in the venom took effect. He knew what could come next: more bleeding from the rectum and the gums and blood-stained vomit.

The blood could seep into the brain and affect other organs, and this could be fatal. Fortunately for Weeraratne, the two people he was with were experts themselves. They identified the snake that had bitten him, applied first aid, and rushed him to a nearby hospital where he was successfully treated.

He tells Al Jazeera that the accident was a turning point in his life.

It led him to his job as a caretaker at Sri Lanka’s first national serpentarium, home to some 185 venomous snakes. Common kraits, cobras, Russell’s vipers, saw-scaled vipers and hump-nosed pit vipers lie coiled in their containers – with water bowls, foliage and coconut shells.

The small three-man team at the serpentarium keeps odd hours because some of these snakes, such as the kraits, are most active at night.

Weeraratne and his team must see to the serpents’ health and extract their venom, which is collected and sent to a lab in Costa Rica. It is there that the first polyspecific freeze-dried antivenom to offer protection specifically against Sri Lankan snakes is being produced.

The serpentarium was set up and is operated by the United States-based Animal Venom Research International (AVRI). Its executive director, however, is the Sri Lankan-born Roy Malleappah, a herpetological field operations specialist. It has taken him and his team years of dedicated work to make the Sri Lankan antivenom a reality.

The antivenom was developed in close collaboration with the Instituto Clodomiro Picado (ICP) in Costa Rica, while the University of Peradeniya – partly funded by the National Research Council of Sri Lanka – is responsible for the clinical trials, which are now ongoing.

The antivenom ICP and AVRI have produced is polyspecific – covering multiple species including, for the first time, Sri Lanka’s hump-nosed pit viper. It is the most common cause of snakebite envenoming in Sri Lanka and is known to cause serious systemic toxicity and death.

Sri Lanka has one of the highest snakebite rates in the world, yet statistics are hard to come by as many cases go unreported. The island boasts 92 different species of snakes, but most deaths are attributed (PDF) to just three – the highly venomous cobra, Russell’s viper and krait.

The national serpentarium itself is located in Dambulla in central Sri Lanka. Locals here know well what damage a snakebite can do. There is always a rash of incidents in March, when farmers go into the fields to harvest paddy and find snakes hiding amid the green stalks.

Weeraratne himself remembers a trip to a village in this area. “Every single house I visited told me that they had lost someone to a snakebite: from fathers to a 17-year-old who was sitting for her A-Level exams. The stories are enough to bring tears to your eyes.”

Even among those who survived, there were some who would struggle with chronic kidney disease for the rest of their lives.

An island-wide community survey in 2016 extrapolated that, over a 12-month period, there were more than 80,000 bites, 30,000 envenomings and 400 deaths from snakebites.

Today, the antivenom used in Sri Lankan hospitals is imported – typically from India, where many of the same species exist.

“However, the reaction to the antivenom has become part of the problem,” says Sarath Kotagama, a conservationist and emeritus professor of environmental science at the University of Colombo.

He explains that what is not always understood is how much variation there is between Indian and Sri Lankan snakes, even though they may belong, in theory, to the same species.

“The toxicity and composition of the venom is affected by the snakes’ diet and other regional variations,” says Kotagama, adding that “the Hypnale hypnale group [the hump-nosed pit vipers] are very specific to this country, and so you need a specific antivenom for them”.

When a person is brought into a hospital with a bite from a hump-nose pit viper, doctors are at a loss.

“The bite from this snake is not covered by the antivenom we have, even though it is one of the most common bites,” says Dr Indika Gawarammana, the lead investigator for the AVRI/ICP antivenom clinical trials at the University of Peradeniya’s teaching hospital.

He explains that symptomatic treatment, such as surgical incisions and pain relief medications, is all that is on offer.

There is another reason doctors sometimes hesitate to treat snakebite victims with the current antivenom, he says.

“The imported antivenom creates adverse effects in a big proportion of those patients who receive it,” Gawarammana tells Al Jazeera, citing a range of symptoms from relatively mild skin reactions, such as itching, to life-threatening anaphylactic reactions.

Sri Lanka’s excellent network of hospitals means that most people are within 30 minutes to an hour of getting help, but the side-effects of the antivenom can mean doctors will insist that patients be transferred to bigger, more distant hospitals where severe reactions can be managed. The delay is increased if a patient is not certain what species of snake bit them.

“This allows complications to set in,” says Gawarammana.

READ MORE: African nations face snake venom antidote crisis

Currently, 2500 vials of the antivenom have been produced as part of a test batch. First freeze-dried, it can be stored at room temperature. [Malaka Mp/Al Jazeera]
Currently, 2,500 vials of the new antivenom have been produced as part of a test batch. First freeze-dried, the antivenom can be stored at room temperature. Malleappah notes that ICP’s technology has produced a particularly pure, concentrated and effective version of the antivenom. This is why treatment can begin with only two vials instead of the 10 vials that are currently routine with imported antivenom.

The clinical trials are still ongoing, but Gawarammana says the patients have so far responded very well to the new antivenom.

The allergic reactions have been negligible, necessitating fewer days in the hospital.

“In Sri Lanka, we haven’t really calculated the cost to the government of treating the allergic reactions to the old antivenom,” he says, noting that, typically, patients would spend days, and sometimes weeks, at home recuperating, thereby adding to the economic cost.

In contrast, the new antivenom has delivered quick recoveries that allow people to return to work within days of being bitten. As part of the trial, the AVRI/ICP antivenom will also be sent to an Australian laboratory to have its efficacy tested.

Maintaining a balance

It is Malleappah’s hope that Sri Lanka will be able to begin producing its own antivenom very soon. He is currently arranging for more than 100 horses to be imported to help produce the antivenom in a new Sri Lankan facility. These will be injected with a small amount of snake venom and will generate antibodies that can then be extracted and used to create an antivenom.

Malleappah says this is typically not a lucrative business and so very few pharmaceutical giants are willing to invest money into research and development or manufacturing the product. He believes that if Sri Lanka were to start producing its own antivenom, it would be a boost to the island’s technology capacity, and serve as a model that could be exported to other countries in the region.

Gawarammana agrees. “We should have our own manufacturing capabilities. There are lots of issues in this country where the same approach can be used to produce antidotes, for example, for plant poisons. It’s important Sri Lanka has the technology.”

While people are the focus of these efforts, for the AVRI team, saving snakes is a crucial goal as well.

“I am really sad to see the indiscriminate killing of snakes in this country. It has a huge, catastrophic effect on the ecological balance,” Malleappah says.

As another unapologetic conservationist, Kotagama, too, is interested in seeing the antivenom developed.

“Today, every snake is a deadly snake,” he says. “If people were confident that they could be treated, that they would not die from this bite, then we would definitely see fewer snakes being killed out of hand.”

 

2 Million tourists thanks to SriLankan Airlines’ codeshare partnerships

Jan 10, Colombo: The smooth functioning of SriLankan Airlines’ codeshare partnerships in the Western and Central European region contributed in a significant manner to the growth of tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka in 2016, which expanded by 14% and crossed the 2 million milestone.

SriLankan made a significant change in strategy in the fourth quarter of 2016 by expanding services to the Middle East, South Asia and East Asia which included the launch of 11 new destinations and the increase of frequencies to existing destinations, while suspending services on three loss-making European routes. The changes resulted in SriLankan expanding its global route network to 101 destinations in 47 countries. It is also now the largest foreign carrier into India where it serves 11 cities with over 100 frequencies, as well as being the largest airline operating to both Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

SriLankan arranged efficient codeshare agreements with its partner airlines to carry passengers to Colombo from much of Europe, as it suspended services to Paris, Frankfurt and Rome in November 2016. Significantly, each of these tourism markets recorded significant increases in growth of tourists to Sri Lanka and growth was not affected by the suspension of direct air services, due to the convenient codeshare services offered by SriLankan’s partner airlines. Arrivals from Germany for December 2016 totaled 11,994, an increase of 5.9% over December 2015; and arrivals from France in December 2016 totaled 7,061, an 11.5% increase over the 7,871 of December 2015.

SriLankan has codeshare arrangements with many airlines around the world, which provide air services that strengthen the national carrier’s global network and help market Sri Lanka as a tourism destination.

Western and Central Europe was the largest tourism generating region to Sri Lanka in 2016 by contributing 643,333 visitors, according to the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, with a 16.5% growth over 2015. This was even more than South Asia (513,536) and East Asia (425,161), despite those two regions having the two single largest tourist market countries – India and China.

Western and Central Europe’s contribution came mainly from the United Kingdom (188,159), Germany (133,275) and France (96,440), but significant numbers of tourists also came from the Netherlands, Italy, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, Denmark, Austria, Belgium and Norway, each of which generated more than 10,000 visitors. Russia, Ukraine, Czech Republic and Poland, although classified by the SLTDA as Eastern European countries, also made significant contributions totaling a further 161,171 tourists.

 

Sri Lanka targets 2.5 million tourist arrivals in 2017

Jan 07, Colombo: Despite the impediment due to the partial closure of the international airport during the first quarter and withdrawal of the national carrier from key markets, Sri Lanka has set a target of 2.5 million tourist arrivals in 2017.

John Amaratunga Minister of Tourism

Tourism Development, Land and Christian Affairs Minister John Amaratunga at a media briefing yesterday said Sri Lanka, hoping to attract 2.5 million tourists this year, will launch long-delayed Rs. 800 million international tourism promotions campaign in June this year.

He said the partial closure of the international airport from Jan 6- April 6, during the peak tourism season, for the renovation of its runway is a tremendous setback but expressed hope that the tourism promotions campaign and word of mouth of tourists who visited the country in 2016 would help to achieve the target.

Sri Lanka’s tourist arrivals in 2016 rose 14.0 percent from the year before with the arrival of 2,050,832 tourists although lower than the target of 2.2 million for the year.

Minister Amaratunga said the number was the highest ever. While it bodes well for the industry the numbers were far below that of competing destinations like Thailand and Malaysia, which draw 25-30 million tourists annually, the Minister said.

Earnings from tourism increased to US$ 3.5 billion in 2016 from US$ 2.8 billion in 2015, the Minister said.