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Many feared buried as hopes dim after Sri Lanka garbage dump landslide

COLOMBO: Hopes faded on Sunday for the survival of an estimated 100 people trapped under the mud and debris of a landslide at a giant rubbish dump in the Sri Lankan capital.

Police say the known death toll from the disaster has risen to 26 and emergency workers are to resume their search on Monday after halting late on Sunday night.

The 300-foot-high (90-metre) dump in the Meethotamulla area on the border of the commercial heart of Colombo collapsed after flames engulfed it late on Friday, the nation’s new year’s day, burying many homes.

Military spokesman Roshan Senivirathna told Reuters that survival was “very unlikely” but the rescue mission involving more than 1,000 emergency workers from defence establishments would continue.

Authorities are struggling to ascertain the exact number of missing people.

Liyanage Menaka, who lost her house in the disaster, urged the government to provide homes for those who live in danger around the country’s biggest garbage pile.

“The lives of more than 100 are lost. What we are asking is (that they) give us a solution and take care of our kids,” she told Reuters.

President Maithripala Sirisena has instructed the authorities to ensure financial resources are not an obstacle in the relief operation, his office said in a statement.

The police said they were investigating whether the landslide was natural or man-made. They also said about 145 houses had been damaged.

Residents of the area, mostly living in shanties, had been demanding the removal of the dump, saying it was causing health problems. The government had said it would remove it soon, under an infrastructure plan.

(Writing by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Andrew Bolton)

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Indonesia hopes to guard against Zika virus with airport larvae traps

JAKARTA: The Indonesian Health Ministry on Thursday (Sep 15) installed larvae traps around airport terminals as one of the measures to prevent the spreading of Zika virus amid outbreak in neighboring country Singapore.

At Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta, one of the busiest airports in Southeast Asia, authorities prepared about 1,000 larvae traps, placing them in the garden, arrival and departure hall, offices, toilets and all public areas across three terminals.

The trap provides an artificial ground for mosquitoes to lay eggs and the chemical in the container will kill the larvae in it. Health officials hope through this way it will effectively reduce the population of mosquitoes.

This is the latest measure carried out by the Indonesia air transport hub following a Zika outbreak in neighboring Singapore. It enforced thermal scanning on all passengers arriving from the city state since last month.

Singapore reported its first locally-infected Zika patient on Aug 27 and since then, the number of reported infections has soared to more than 300. Thailand has recorded about 200 cases of Zika since January, increasing fears that Indonesia, a country of 250 million population, could be exposed to the virus.

“There are about 6,000 passengers arriving from Singapore almost everyday. We monitor and check the body temperature of arrival passengers with thermal scanners, no one so far has been detected (as a possible virus carrier),” said Susanto a health official.

“Apparently, not all of them show overheating symptoms like dengue, some of them could be suffering from fever that is under 38 degrees. So the most important thing to do is not let mosquitoes spread around the airport area, therefore we installed these larvae traps in the whole airport area,” the health official added.

The installation is part of the Indonesian government’s disease prevention program called “3M”.

“The airport, as the entrance (to the nation), is important when it comes to protecting us from Zika. This method can help. We will continue the effort because it is part of the government’s “3M” prevention measure. This is one of the methods that is effective in eradicating the population of mosquitoes,” said Oscar Primadi, head of the communication department of Health Ministry.

“So, I would like to reiterate that, we will advocate this method to the public as it has been proven to be an efficient technology. We will do anything we can to curb the growing of the mosquitoes,” Primadi added.

The Zika virus, which has spread through the Americas and the Caribbean since late last year, is generally a mild disease but is a particular risk to pregnant women. It has been linked to microcephaly – a severe birth defect in which babies are born with abnormally small heads and underdeveloped brains.

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Filipino fishermen pin hopes on China tribunal

INFANTA, Philippines: Jonathan Almandrez was chased away from the rich fishing grounds of a South China Sea lagoon by a Chinese patrol — something he hopes will stop happening if the Philippines wins an international legal case against Beijing.

The incident at Scarborough Shoal, a necklace of reefs and rocks that Filipino fishermen say hosts some of the world’s most abundant marine life, is part of a long-running territorial row that sits at the heart of a UN backed tribunal expected to rule in the coming weeks.

“I was angry at their gall to shoo us away when we were clearly inside Philippine territory,” said the 30-year-old, who used a pseudonym as he did not want to be identified for fear of potential Chinese repercussions.

Almandrez — who provided mobile phone footage of the encounter to AFP — said for two hours on Jun 7, Chinese coast guard patrol boats circled a wooden outrigger carrying 10 Filipino fishermen.

The patrol boats got within about two metres of the vessel, which had been fishing the reefs just outside the shoal before daylight betrayed them to the Chinese.

“Transfer to another area! No fishing inside,” the Chinese patrol personnel shouted in English, according to Almandrez.

“You go (back) to China because this is the property of the Philippines,” Almandrez recalled shouting back.

The Filipino crew eventually left when a much larger Chinese vessel began to approach and they feared it would fire water cannon.

Video footage shows two patrol boats flying Chinese flags and with the English words “CHINA COAST GUARD” on the side.

CHINA TAKES CONTROL

Local fishermen say the shoal, 230km off the main Philippine island of Luzon, has been their hunting ground for generations.

It is 650km from Hainan island, the nearest major Chinese landmass, but falls within the ill-defined “nine-dash line” that marks the extent of Beijing’s claim to control of nearly all of the South China Sea.

The reefs and shallow waters mean one fisherman can easily spear 200kg of fish in just over an hour, according to Almandrez and others from Infanta, one of the main Scarborough Shoal fishing towns on Luzon.

It also provides vital shelter for stranded fishermen during storms.

China took effective control of the shoal in 2012, following a brief encounter with the Philippine Navy’s flagship and Filipino coast guards.

Since then, non-Chinese fishing boats approaching the lagoon mouth have routinely been given an ear-splitting horn blast from a ship stationed inside, and those who refuse to leave run the risk of being hosed down or even rammed, according to Filipino fishermen.

“The water spray was so strong it destroyed one of our styrofoams,” Felix Lavezores, 36, told AFP at Infanta, recalling an early May water-cannon attack at the lagoon mouth that split an ice box used to store their catch.

An expedition to the shoal costs around 90,000 pesos (nearly US$ 2,000) per boat, including fuel, supplies and crew salaries — money the boat’s owners cannot make back if they are forced to hightail it home with an empty hold.

The Chinese at times also cut anchor cables, putting Filipino boats at risk of running aground, according to some of the Filipino fishermen at Infanta and Masinloc, another fishing town.

‘INTRINSIC TERRITORY’

China claims it has sovereign rights to nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters approaching the coasts of its Asian neighbours.

When asked about incidents at the shoal, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying repeated China’s long-standing position.

“We have said that Scarborough Shoal is China’s intrinsic territory. The Chinese coast guard vessels’ law enforcement activities in China’s sovereign territorial waters are legitimate and beyond reproach,” Hua told reporters in Beijing on Tuesday.

The competing territorial claims have for decades made the South China Sea a potential source of regional conflict, and tensions have risen sharply in recent years as China has sought to expand its presence in the disputed areas.

Aside from taking control of Scarborough Shoal, it has undertaken unprecedented land-reclamation works in the Spratly Islands, one of the sea’s main archipelagoes that are also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan.

Critics of China fear the artificial islands could be put to military use, and to establish effective sea and air control over some of the world’s most important shipping routes and waters that are believed to sit atop significant oil and gas deposits.

The Philippines, the most vocal critic, has responded by lodging a case with the Permanent Court of Arbitration, a UN-backed tribunal at The Hague, asking it to rule that China’s claims to most of the sea violate international law.

Although China is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, it has vowed to ignore the ruling and accused the Philippines of stirring tensions with its legal challenge.

The Philippines hopes a favourable verdict will, at minimum, help build global diplomatic pressure on China.

But regardless of the outcome, China looks unlikely to let Philippine fishermen return to Scarborough Shoal. 

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