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Sri Lanka

A Surprisingly Fragrant Way To Save The Newspaper Business

In Sri Lanka, take a whiff of that newspaper. Its ink can help shoo away deadly mosquito-borne diseases, one of the more improbable ways to save the printed press in our digital era.

Approved by Bill Gates
Approved by Bill Gates
Julien Bouissou

COLOMBO In markets stalls in the Sri Lankan capital, and elsewhere in the world, they are used to wrap fish. But that is just one daily use for newspapers beyond reading them, there are others.

Saranga Wijeyarathne, chief of marketing of the Sinhalese-language dailies Mawbima and Ceylon Today, had been thinking for months about the possibility of adding a special "scent" to the day's news pages to help increase circulation.

Wijeyarathne was waiting for the perfect opportunity, which came on April 7 with annual World Health Day. That day, the first-ever citronella-scented newspapers rolled off the presses, with the aim of protecting readers from mosquitoes. It is a new way to fight the spread of mosquito-borne dengue fever, which can be fatal and affects up to 30,000 people every year in Sri Lanka.

The time of day when newspapers are typically read — in the morning and evening — coincides with when mosquitoes are the most threatening. In the first days of this trial, newsstands around the country sold out a special printing of 200,000 copies, 30% more than ordinary days.

The Ministry of Health welcomed the initiative, as did Bill Gates, who praised the project on Twitter.

I like the ingenuity… mosquito-repellent newspaper helps fight dengue in Sri Lanka: http://t.co/Ou33MrXBiH via @ozy

— Bill Gates (@BillGates) July 11, 2014

The first mosquito-repellent newspaper in the history of press was not easy to develop, starting with the choice of repellent. Citronella oil, which is extracted from the leaves and stems of lemongrass, was chosen for its scent, considered pleasant and easily identifiable. Instead of spraying it onto the newspapers, it was decided that it would be mixed with the ink to make the scent more persistent. A chemist was hired to set the dosage, while mechanics made sure the liters of citronella would not damage the printing presses.

At the beginning of the operation, citronella-vaporized posters showing insects stuck in the Sinhalese letters were installed at busstops.

"Daily newspapers are not dead, as long as we innovate and believe in the future of this format," says Wijeyarathne. "Since newspapers across the country started innovating to modernize the image of this medium and make it attractive, sales stopped declining."

The first 3D newspaper, or one that could be used as a flag, published on the National Day of Sri Lanka, were also launched in the country. In Ecuador, a daily printed on laminated paper, to provide shelter from rain, also came off the presses.

It's not the paper

Although it was successful, the mosquito-repellent newspaper cannot be published every day because of its high cost. “Above all, the newspaper wanted to raise awareness among the general public about dengue fever, and we wanted to generalize the use of citronella, which is a natural insect repellent, but less and less used,” explains Ranil de Silva, the head of the advertising agency Leo Burnett in Sri Lanka, which took part in the operation.

Wijeyarathne is thrilled that his mosquito-repellent newspaper got noticed in big places abroad. "The problem with newspapers is not paper, but the lack of ideas," he says.

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The Problem With Always Blaming Climate Change For Natural Disasters

Climate change is real, but a closer look at the science shows there are many factors that contribute to weather-related disasters. It is important to raise awareness about the long-term impact of global warming, but there's a risk in overstating its role in the latest floods or fires.

People on foot, on bikes, motorcycles, scooters and cars navigate through a flooded street during the day time.

Karachi - People wade through flood water after heavy rain in a southern Pakistani city

Xinhua / ZUMA
Axel Bojanowski


BERLIN — In September, thousands of people lost their lives when dams collapsed during flooding in Libya. Engineers had warned that the dams were structurally unsound.

Two years ago, dozens died in floods in western Germany, a region that had experienced a number of similar floods in earlier centuries, where thousands of houses had been built on the natural floodplain.

Last year saw more than 1,000 people lose their lives during monsoon floods in Pakistan. Studies showed that the impact of flooding in the region was exacerbated by the proximity of human settlements, the outdated river management system, high poverty rates and political instability in Pakistan.

There are many factors that contribute to weather-related disasters, but one dominates the headlines: climate change. That is because of so-called attribution studies, which are published very quickly after these disasters to highlight how human-caused climate change contributes to extreme weather events. After the flooding in Libya, German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung described climate change as a “serial offender," while the Tageszeitung wrote that “the climate crisis has exacerbated the extreme rainfall."

The World Weather Attribution initiative (WWA) has once again achieved its aim of using “real-time analysis” to draw attention to the issue: on its website, the institute says its goal is to “analyse and communicate the possible influence of climate change on extreme weather events." Frederike Otto, who works on attribution studies for the WWA, says these reports help to underscore the urgent need for climate action. They transform climate change from an “abstract threat into a concrete one."

In the immediate aftermath of a weather-related disaster, teams of researchers rush to put together attribution studies – “so that they are ready within the same news cycle," as the New York Times reported. However, these attribution studies do not meet normal scientific standards, as they are published without going through the peer-review process that would be undertaken before publication in a specialist scientific journal. And that creates problems.

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