President Affirms Sri Lanka’s Commitment on Promoting Eco-Tourism at the WLI Asia Oceania Conference 2024

  • No Waiting for External Funding to Combat Climate Change and Environmental Conservation.
  • Tropical Countries Urged to Secure Funds Through Commercial Environmental Projects.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe emphasized Sri Lanka’s commitment to advancing eco-tourism through the conservation of wetlands. He underscored the futility of waiting for external funding to combat climate change and environmental challenges, urging tropical countries to explore self-sustaining financial models tied to environmental projects.

Speaking at the closing ceremony of the inaugural WLI Asia Oceania Conference 2024 at Water’s Edge Hotel, Battaramulla yesterday (20), President Wickremesinghe highlighted Sri Lanka’s proactive stance.

The conference, organized by the Sri Lanka Land Development Corporation under the Ministry of Housing, aimed to foster collaboration for the sustainable management of wetlands. Held from June 17 to 21 at “Diyasaru” Wetland Park, Battaramulla, the event focused on the theme “Wetlands and Wetland Centers for Eco-friendly Tourism.”

Representatives from 15 counties including Sri Lanka, Korea, Mongolia, Philippines, Jordan, Myanmar, New Zealand, Nepal, Japan, Australia, China, India, Pakistan, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom participated, totaling nearly 100 delegates from over 70 wetland parks worldwide. Notably, the foreign delegates had the opportunity to explore Colombo’s urban wetlands, renowned as the world’s first wetland capital of the world, during the three-day observation program.

At the ceremony, Executive Director of the Ramsar Convention’s East Asia Regional Center Mr. Suh Seung Oh, presented a memento to President Ranil Wickremesinghe, marking the culmination of the conference.

Addressing the gathering President Ranil Wickremesinghe further commented:

“Sri Lanka considers itself privileged that Wetlands International’s first conference is being held here, and you have taken ‘Diyasaru’ Park as a good example. Wetlands, much like elephants and others, are disappearing species or landmarks. How do we preserve them? That’s the issue.

Not only in urban areas but even in other regions, wetlands are disappearing. Partly due to the need for development, partly due to the need for people to live. Nevertheless, development and population expansion have taken their toll on wetlands. So, what you have undertaken is how to preserve them, and that is an objective we all agree with.

If you look at this, about 500 years ago, this whole area was covered by wetlands. When you take ‘Muthurajawela’ to the north, this area, which was once entirely wetlands, sometimes formed a fortress to safeguard the cinnamon trade and repel rival armies from the north and south. You can still see traces of that. But gradually, we have seen it being filled up. Yet, we have still managed to preserve some wetlands, and the minister and the corporation have done a commendable job. We must emphasize and prioritize the conservation of our wetlands. Thus, ‘Diyasaru’ Park is an example of this effort.

We are also planning to establish another tourist attraction over 1000 acres of wetlands in the south. In an area called ‘Deduwa’ near ‘Lunu ganga’, Bentota, which was also the residence of the late Geoffrey Bawa, the famous architect. This will be quite extensive. How do you preserve these wetlands?

As you proceed, you will encounter more wetlands in ‘Akurala’ that need preservation. Many wetlands will be preserved. Some will also feature eco-friendly tourism. Certainly, that is an area of focus. This is just a part of what we are doing in eco-tourism and wetlands.

We are discussing another 1000 acres near Horton Place to create another tourist area. Sri Lanka will identify and certainly start safeguarding these areas, such as those essential for eco-tourism and wetlands.

However, we feel that there is much more in the world that we must safeguard. Therefore, we are also promoting the concept of the tropical belt. Within the tropical belt lie wetlands, savannas, these are crucial areas for combating climate change. These are the sinks that exist globally.

They are mainly located in the tropical belt. So, why not save them all? Or do our best to preserve them? Look at the Amazon. The Amazon is disappearing. What should we do in Africa? Consider all these things, whether wetlands, forests, or grasslands. Let’s determine how many of them can hold commercial value, not for profit-driven ventures, but as part of the environmental movement. Who is willing to invest money in this cause? Because it’s unlikely that much money will come from the developed world right now. At present, it’s probably going to places like Ukraine or Gaza, not here. Thus, we must take care of ourselves. Let’s explore how many commercial projects we can find in wetlands.

We are also examining the role the Indian Ocean can play as a sink, it is even more significant. We are now promoting a concept. Let’s consider how we can commercialize these areas, not for ordinary development but certainly for environmental purposes.

How much can we achieve through green financing, through green economics, to obtain credit? This is what we need to focus on now.

The environment in our region, within the tropical belt, is under threat. We should not expect money to come from outside. That funding isn’t available. Therefore, we must rely on our own methods of generating commercial revenue to protect the environment and the tropical belt.

The government of Sri Lanka is also preparing legislation for an international climate change university, the first of its kind. It will be connected to many other climate change centers, following the model of the East-West Center. Those who come for short-term training or postgraduate studies will find it a central hub for climate change education and research.

These are the two main proposals Sri Lanka will present, and we intend to pursue them in the coming years. I don’t want to take up any more of your time, but rather to thank the organizers and wish you all the best. Thank you.”

Executive Director of the Ramsar Convention East Asia Center Mr. Suh Seung Oh:

“I would like to extend my highest appreciation to the Sri Lankan government for hosting this important meeting, especially to Hon. President Ranil Wickremesinghe. Over the last four days, we have communicated, connected, and discussed numerous issues pertinent to the Wetland Centers. This gathering has not only fostered collaboration among the Wetland Centers but has also strengthened ties between the continents of Asia and Oceania. Through this first Asia-Oceania collaboration, we have maintained a close relationship with the general public, delivering crucial messages about the importance of wellness. Together, we are creating shared values with the people.”

Minister of Urban Development and Housing Prasanna Ranatunga, Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Sabri P. C., State Ministers Thenuka Vidanagamage and Janaka Wakkumbura, Advisor to the President on Parliamentary Affairs Ashu Marasinghe, Advisor to the President on Environment, Climate, and Green Finance Dr. Ananda Mallawathantri, Chief Executive Officer of the Climate Change Office and Senior Additional Secretary to the President Dr. Anil Jasingha, Secretary to the Ministry of Urban Development and Housing W.S. Sathyananda, Secretary to the Ministry of Wildlife and Forest Resources Conservation Gunadasa Samarasinghe, Secretary to the Ministry of Environment B.K.P. Chandrakeerthi, International Relations Manager of the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust Chris Rostron, Chairman of the Sri Lanka Land Development Corporation Eng. Hiran Balasuriya, Chairman of the Urban Development Authority Nimesh Herath, representatives from International Wetland Parks, environmentalists, and government officials were present on the occasion.