Saturday, October 18, 2008

Food aid reaches Sri Lanka north

UN food convoy
The first UN convoy was sent in early October

A UN food convoy has reached rebel-held northern Sri Lanka where some 200,000 people have been displaced by fighting.

The World Food Programme said aid was handed to local government officials.

The 50-truck convoy carrying 750 tonnes of food was due to reach the Wanni region on Thursday but had to turn back after coming under artillery fire.

The UN tried again after receiving safety assurances from Sri Lankan forces and Tamil Tiger rebels who have fought fierce clashes in recent weeks.

A member of the World Food Programme, Mads Vejlstrup, said Friday's journey had been without major incident.


"Today we had no problems except rain," he told the BBC Tamil service.

"We are now off loading in Pudukudiyiruppu. My colleague has gone with another group of lorries to Kilinochchi district and so far offloaded 80 tonnes of food. We are planning to come back tomorrow morning."

The BBC's Roland Buerk in Colombo says civilians in the north are trapped between the rebels, who do not want them to leave, and the military whose assurances of a safe route out they appear to distrust.

Many are living in camps, or sheltering under trees from the monsoon rain.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan government says it has sent enough medicine to last to the end of the year in Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi districts.


Our correspondent says this is only the second convoy to reach Tamil Tiger controlled northern Sri Lanka since the government ordered out humanitarian workers last month.

It was forced to turn back by fighting on Thursday.

Shells exploded "uncomfortably" close to the convoy inside the Wanni region, a UN spokesman said. It is not clear who was behind the firing.

The first UN convoy of food aid was sent into rebel-controlled northern Sri Lanka a fortnight ago after the UN and other agencies were ordered out in mid-September.

The UN says the latest convoy was carrying enough food to feed the population in the Wanni for about a week.

Troops and rebels have fought fierce battles in recent weeks as the army advances towards the key rebel town of Kilinochchi.

Sri Lanka's military is continuing an offensive aimed at capturing territory controlled by the Tigers and ending their fight for a separate state for the ethnic Tamil minority.

According to the military, soldiers are now only about 1.5km (one mile) from the outskirts of Kilinochchi.

But with journalists barred from the area, the claims cannot be independently verified.

Many civilians have fled Kilinochchi to escape the fighting in recent weeks.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Crematorium Shortage in Japan: Some Morbid Facts

In a country where annual deaths are projected to rise 1.7 million by the year 2040, a rapidly aging Japan faces a shortage of crematoriums.

funeralenvelope Crematorium Shortage in Japan: Some Morbid Facts picture

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, annual deaths in Japan rose to 1.1 million in 2007 and nearly all were cremated.

It is expected that deaths will rise annually to 1.7 million by 2040, which is far beyond what Japan’s 4,900 crematoriums can handle.

Due to high land costs and cultural taboos, expanding the number of crematoriums is no easy task; few Japanese would welcome a crematorium going up next door.

Nagoya’s Yagoto Cemetery has been struggling for the last nine years to build a second crematorium, but opposition from neighbors has blocked construction of the 30-furnace facility.

A non-profit, philanthropic group, the Nippon Foundation, has come to the rescue with a unique solution.

Their idea is to build “floating crematoriums”, ships that could incinerate remains at sea.

Will this ever be a reality?

Only time will tell.

Meditation as Medicine

Healing meditations should be simple, appealing, and useful.

By Carol Krucoff

Healing meditations should be simple, appealing, and useful, says T.K.V. Desikachar, who teaches the following practice. The experience begins with easy movements and breathing to prepare body and mind, invokes a personal comfort item to bring healing throughout the body, and concludes by offering healing to the entire world.

Begin Standing

Inhale and raise your arms overhead. Exhale and lower your arms as you recite the word namaha, which means “to honor.” Repeat six times.

Inhale and raise your arms overhead. Exhale, hinge forward at your hips, and touch your feet as you recite the word namaha. Inhale as you return to standing, and raise your arms overhead. Exhale, hinge forward at the hips, and touch your knees as you recite the word namaha. Continue this practice, moving your hands up your body with each exhalation, touching—in turn—your hips, belly, heart, throat, mouth, ears, eyes, and crown of the head as you recite the word namaha.

Sit Comfortably

Close your eyes and tune in to your breath. Inhale as you count to six, hold your breath as you count to three, then exhale as you count to six. Repeat 10 times.

Lie Down

Close your eyes, surrender your body to the earth, and bring your attention to your breath. Place your hands on your heart and breathe gently. Now, think of something that brings you great comfort. It can be a person, a place, a color, an object, a prayer, a word—whatever you like. Visualize this thing of comfort in as much detail as you can.

Continue to visualize this thing of comfort as you take your hands to your belly—inhale for a count of six, hold for a count of three, exhale for a count of six. Then, continuing to visualize this thing of comfort, move your hands to your heart—inhale for six, hold for three, exhale for six. Continue this practice— moving your hands, in turn, to your throat, mouth, ears, eyes, and head.

Next, scan your body, looking for any place of disturbance, tension, or pain. Now, visualize your thing of comfort as you move your hands to this place. Inhale for six, hold for three, exhale for six. Repeat 10 times.

Sit Comfortably

With eyes closed, chant namaha three times. Open your eyes and chant it three times, inviting this healing to help you and to benefit the entire world.

For information about Desikachar’s yoga teaching and therapy, visit the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram website, For information about its yoga therapy training, visit

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Shock of Indian airline job losses

By Prachi Pinglay
BBC News, Mumbai

Laid off Jet Airways staff
The dismissed staff say that they are shocked and disappointed

Kauzar Shaikh, 24, (name changed) and Geeta Sharma, 22, (name changed) are two of the 800 cabin crew of Jet Airways who have recently lost their jobs.

The airline on Wednesday confirmed the lay-off of 800 cabin crew and indicated a further lay-off taking the total to 1,900 people.

The affected crew were dressed in their bright yellow uniform, complete with elaborate make-up and perfect hair-dos.

They stood outside the company headquarters near Mumbai (Bombay) international airport all morning. Many were visibly shocked and embarrassed about coming out to protest.

'No notice'

As time went by desperation replaced shyness and the crowd got louder.

Then they came into central Mumbai to meet Raj Thackeray, the leader of Maharashtra Navnirmaan Sena. He is a politician who campaigns for employment for locals in the state.

When he said he supported their cause and "would not let a Jet flight take off tomorrow", they shouted and cheered him.

Laid off Jet Airways staff
Protesting staff say they face an uncertain future

As they watched Mr Thackeray make his pronouncements, Kauzar and Geeta - like every other flight attendant - complained that they were not given sufficient notice about the lay-off.

They repeatedly said they were willing to take a pay cut but could not afford to lose their jobs.

While some did not mind openly displaying their emotions, others preferred to huddle together quietly.

"Give me my job, give me my job back," one flight attendant from the north-east region of India kept saying.

"What did I come here for? All the way from home… what do I tell my mother now? She has been calling and asking if I still have a job."

According to the protesting staff they were only informed by telephone that they had been "de-rostered" and would eventually be receiving termination letters.

'Few jobs'

Most of them had a flight scheduled in the next couple of days. The letter, they said, did not explain or give any reason for the lay-off.

I have always got good remarks from passengers. I really don't know what to do next
Jet Airlines flight attendant Manav

"I have even gone on international flights. I was confirmed three months back. But they did not serve any notice, nor have they offered any compensation," Kauzar said.

"How will we run the house? Most of us are paying money to our parents or have taken loans for training courses."

However, at a press conference held later in the day, Jet officials maintained that for staff on probation, there was no need for notice or compensation.

Several of the Jet employees are in their early twenties. Many of them have not even completed graduation.

Geeta Sharma, who has one year's experience of working in a five-star hotel, fears that there are few jobs inside or outside the aviation industry.

"We understand that the industry is going through bad times. We don't mind giving up a part of our flight allowance. And then when it gets better our salaries can go up," suggests a hopeful Kauzar.

Chief Executive Officer of India's Kingfisher Airlines Vijay Mallya (L) and Chairman of India's Jet Airways Chairman Naresh Goyal address media representatives after a meeting in Mumbai late October 1
Airline executives say that they need to save money

"Right now if we are making nearly 35,000 rupees ($725) and suddenly we have no job or get a job outside this industry for 10,000 rupees ($200) how will we be able to sustain ourselves?"

Manav, also a flight attendant, rents accommodation in Mumbai, where the rates are among the highest in the country.

"If our work was not satisfactory then they are entitled to remove us from service. But I have always got good remarks from passengers. I really don't know what to do next."

Although many hoped that the lay-offs could have been averted, it transpired throughout Wednesday that the number who had lost their jobs was going up and not down.

Although two political parties have declared their support for the employees, the job losses come at a time when several companies in Mumbai are embarking on a series of cost-cutting measures.

Wednesday's cabin crew protesters are planning to get together again and continue their protests.

As Kauzar and Geeta left with others, they encouraged each other to be prepared for a long and turbulent struggle.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Hunger in India states 'alarming'

Roshni is severely malnourished
India has some of the highest rates of child malnutrition in the world

Twelve Indian states have "alarming" levels of hunger while the situation is "extremely alarming" in the state of Madhya Pradesh, says a new report.

Madhya Pradesh's nutrition problems, it says, are comparable to the African countries of Ethiopia and Chad.

India has more people suffering hunger - a figure above 200 million - than any other country in the world, it says.

The report, released as part of the 2008 Global Hunger Index, ranks India at 66 out 88 countries.

'Scored worse'

The hunger index has been released by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) along with Welthungerhlife and the University of California.

It measures hunger on three indicators which include child malnutrition, rates of child mortality and the number of people who are calorie deficient.

Bar chart showing how Indian states compared with nations in World Hunger Index

The problem of hunger is measured in five categories - low, moderate, serious, alarming or extremely alarming.

The survey says that not one of the 17 states in India that were studied were in the low or moderate hunger category.

"Despite years of robust economic growth, India scored worse than nearly 25 sub-Saharan African countries and all of South Asia, except Bangladesh," the report says.

The best performing state was Punjab, which has a 'serious' hunger problem and does less well than developing countries such as Gabon, Vietnam and Honduras.

Children in Madhya Pradesh
About 60% children in Madhya Pradesh state are malnourished

"When Indian states are compared to countries in the Global Hunger Index, [the central Indian state of] Madhya Pradesh ranks between Ethiopia and Chad," it says.

India is long known to have some of the highest rates of child malnutrition and mortality in under-fives in the world.

According to the Indian government statistics two years ago, around 60% of more than 10 million children in the state were malnourished.

Nutrition experts say the abysmal record is due to an inadequate access to food, poor feeding practices and poor childcare practices in India.

And now the rise in the global food prices has reduced the food-buying capacity of many poor families, making their situation worse.

In the past year food prices have increased significantly, but people's incomes haven't kept pace, forcing many families further into hunger, experts say.

The report says "improving child nutrition is of utmost urgency in most Indian states".

"All states also need to improve strategies to facilitate inclusive economic growth, ensure food sufficiency and reduce child mortality," it adds.

Red: China’s Color of Fire and Celebration

red1-298x300 Red: China’s Color of Fire and Celebration picture Why is red so important to the Chinese culture and what special powers does it hold?

Just as that little black dress and a string of pearls will see most women in the western part of the world through almost any occasion, wearing something red at any Chinese function is never a mistake.

Red is always associated with happiness and good fortune and is symbolic of fire and power to ward off evil spirits (who never, by the way, wear red).

Red is a color the Chinese utilize in many ways. Houses are often adorned with something red such as red paper-cuts, and the red character “福”, which appears on doors when celebrating the Spring Festival or a wedding.

At a traditional Chinese wedding a bride wears red as well, although she may wear white at the beginning of the celebration, which may or not be a product of western influence.

Popular western connotations associated with the color, such as waving a red flag, to see red, etc. do not exist in the Orient.

Red is vibrant, beauty and life, and no one exploits its promise more than the Chinese who drench themselves in its fire on every possible occasion.

china-red-luck Red: China’s Color of Fire and Celebration picture

Red represents the endless pulse of a nation; the blaze of passion, glory and hope.

Throughout Chinese history, red has always been an aesthetic consideration, regardless of age, gender, rank or class when deciding what to wear or how to decorate for a special occasion.

Red is the passion and pride of China.

Things may come and go, but red in China is here to stay.

Monday, October 13, 2008

India gets Christian woman saint
By Alan Johnston
BBC News

Poster featuring Sister Alphonsa and Pope Benedict ahead of her canonisation 12 Oct
Sister Alphonsa has long been revered in India

A Catholic nun, Sister Alphonsa, has become India's first female Christian saint, at an event presided over by Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican.

The canonisation was greeted with delight by Christians in the southern Indian state of Kerala, where Sister Alphonsa lived until her death in 1946.

It is being described as a boost to the spirits of India's Christians.

A number of people have been reported killed recently in Hindu attacks on Christian communities in India.

Sister Alphonsa said that she was completely devoted to Christ by the age of seven.

According to a Vatican biography, when she was only 13 she deliberately thrust her foot into a pile of burning embers.

Her aim was to make herself less attractive, and therefore less likely to be forced into marriage.

She wanted instead to be free to dedicate her life exclusively to God, and eventually she entered a convent.

Sister Alphonsa endured successive bouts of illness and died in her mid-30s.

Pope Benedict greets Indian Christians in Rome after canonising Sister Alphonsa
The Pope offered support to India's Christian minority

In the Vatican's view, Jesus led her to perfection through a life of suffering.

And it credited her with miraculously curing illnesses after her death.

As the Pope declared Sister Alphonsa to be a saint, church bells rang out and firecrackers were set off in celebration in her normally sleepy home town.

Thousands of worshippers had crowded around the small church there to watch the ceremony, which was broadcast live from Rome.

They heard the Pope say that his prayers were with India's tiny Christian minority at the moment.