COLOMBO: In the face of impending electricity rate hikes, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has urged authorities to look into cheaper alternative power generating avenues to overcome the crisis, without placing the full burden on the public. The President has made these observations at the 17th session of the National Economic Council on Friday, where an extensive discussion took place to find viable answers to overcome the power crisis. The President has stressed the importance of completing the construction of Norochcholai coal power plant by 2010, and looking at other renewable natural resources such as the wind to generate power, without heavily depending on fuel. It had been noted that since the Government withdrew its subsidy on fuel where a litre of petrol was provided at Rs.55 to the CEB, the Board had suffered huge losses and had no alternative but to increase the tariff. Attention was also drawn to expedite oil exploration to gain maximum benefits to the country. The authorities pointed out that the Government was still providing the kerosene subsidy at a loss of Rs.300 million monthly. Decisions were also taken to expedite matters regarding water management while imposing tough regulatory measures to arrest abuse.

Eight SAARC countries have agreed to work jointly to tackle the region's illegal wildlife trade that has assumed alarming proportions. The countries have come under the banner of the South Asia Co-operative Environment Programme (SACEP), an inter-governmental organisation, to tackle the illegal trade. The South Asian region is a storehouse of biological diversity and rich terrestrial, freshwater and marine resources. As a result, illegal trade and over-exploitation of wild animals and plants pose a major challenge to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in the region. In a first regional workshop held in Kathmandu, the group agreed to a series of joint action as part of a South Asia Wildlife Trade Initiative (SAWTI). This includes the setting up of a South Asia Experts Group on Wildlife Trade and development of a South Asia Regional Strategic Plan on Wildlife Trade (2008-2013). The SACEP was established in 1982 for promoting regional co-operation in South Asia in the field of environment. The group includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The workshop was organised by the Nepal Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology, SACEP, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Nepal and TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade-monitoring network. Senior wildlife officials from these countries have called upon the international community to support action in South Asia by providing financial and technical assistance in the implementation of the regional plan, an official statement of TRAFFIC said here. The Kathmandu workshop has agreed to focus on a number of key areas of work. These include co-operation and co-ordination, effective legislation policies and law enforcement, sharing knowledge and effective dissemination of information, sustainability of legal trade and livelihoods security, intelligence networks and early warning systems and capacity building. IANS

UNITED NATIONS: Many of the world's poorest people are unable to get enough food because of soaring prices partly caused by the use of food crops to produce biofuels, the head of the U.N. food agency said. "We're seeing more people hungry and at greater numbers than before,' Josette Sheeran, executive director of the Rome-based World Food Program (WFP), said in an interview Monday with The Associated Press.

Japan provided US$ 153,553 (Approximately Rs. 16.56 million) to the Sewalanka Foundation and the Lanka Jathika Sarvodaya Shramadana Sangamaya for agriculture restoration and food security projects in the Batticaloa district under its Grant Assistance for Grass roots Human Security Projects (GGP) scheme. The Sewalanka Foundation will rehabilitate an irrigation channel and a tank, provide perennial crop and home gardening package and construct 15 wells in the Vavunnathivu and Vaharai DS divisions under the project for support of returnees' agriculture livelihoods in the district.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) last week released a report that makes clear both the devastating scope of the global tobacco epidemic and that it is entirely avoidable if nations implement proven solutions. This report presents what nations are doing to address this public health crisis and it demonstrates that most nations are not doing nearly enough. Only about five per cent of the world's population is covered by any one of the key interventions recommended by the WHO.

The flying squad of Wildlife Conservation Department arrested a person dumping garbage in the Green Zone located in front of Central Environment Authority building in Battaramulla last Tuesday. The officers of the flying squad arrested him for throwing garbage-filled bags into the marshy land in front of the Central Environment Authority, which is a Green Zone belonging to the Authority. The suspect is a resident of Robert Gunawardena Mawatha, sources at Environment Ministry said. He had come to the location in his car from home with the garbage sacks to be thrown into the marsh.