President highlights Lanka’s triumphs amid Covid | Sunday Observer
Overcoming global challenges:

President highlights Lanka’s triumphs amid Covid

26 September, 2021
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and First Lady Ioma Rajapaksa join other world leaders in paying a solemn  tribute to those who perished in the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York City and elsewhere.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and First Lady Ioma Rajapaksa join other world leaders in paying a solemn tribute to those who perished in the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York City and elsewhere.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa highlighted several areas of international concern during his speech at the 76th session of the UN General Assembly on September 22, where challenges and strategies of overcoming Covid-19 took precedence.

Acknowledging that the pandemic had a ‘devastating impact on humanity’, he paid tribute to the lives lost in millions around the world. In the battle against Covid-19, the work of frontline healthcare staff was especially mentioned for their contribution along with the essential workers who risk their lives in providing services to the people.

“I thank frontline healthcare and essential workers around the world for their dedication and commend the World Health Organization (WHO) for its crisis response,” President Rajapaksa said.


Since the start of the Covid-19 spread in early 2019, technological advances were made use of to develop counter measures to suppress the disease and the world started getting the good news of successful vaccines by 2020. President Rajapaksa appreciated the advances of the scientific and medical communities in bringing about a solution to combat the virus that engulfed the world. He also reminded that issues surrounding vaccination need to be urgently addressed.

“We must recognise that the challenges surrounding production, distribution, deployment and acceptance of vaccines must be overcome urgently if the spread of dangerous new virus strains is to be prevented,” he said.

It is now a widely known fact that vaccination is the best way out of the pandemic and the President reiterated Sri Lanka’s commitment towards vaccinating its populations to restore normalcy in the socio-economic spheres. Challenging as it is to the economy, Sri Lanka imposed several lockdowns since the beginning of the pandemic although it impacted the lives of a majority of Sri Lankans. Therefore, Sri Lanka’s vaccination program expedited to save lives and livelihoods of the people.

“Although still a developing nation, Sri Lanka has been very successful in its vaccination program. We have already fully vaccinated nearly all those above the age of 30. Everyone over the age of 20 will be fully vaccinated by the end of October. We will start vaccinating children over 15 years of age in the near future,” the President said.

Frontline workers

He also appreciated the coordinated efforts of healthcare workers, Armed Forces and Police personnel, Government officers, and elected officials in the rapid progress of vaccinations. Not only is Sri Lanka committed to safeguarding its citizens, it also tries to fulfil its moral responsibility to humanity by supporting other countries with the knowledge gained. This is through the establishment of a Regional Knowledge Hub in collaboration with the WHO, to facilitate the exchange of lessons learnt from Covid-19 and support countries to recover better.

The President also expressed gratitude to countries that supported Sri Lanka in combatting the crisis.

“Sri Lanka also benefited greatly from financial and material support provided by bilateral and multilateral donors to manage the pandemic. I thank these nations and institutions for their generosity. The increased global cooperation visible during this ongoing crisis is greatly encouraging. However, there is still more to be done,” he said.

Similar to Sri Lanka, the pandemic has impacted the economies of a majority of countries. The developing and underdeveloped countries have taken a huge brunt and it is necessary for international organisations to lend a helping hand. The President reiterated this point, stating that the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals would also be at considerable risk.

“It is vital that more initiatives including development financing and debt relief be adopted through international mechanisms to support developing nations and help them emerge from this uncertain situation,” he said.

Heavy burden

President Rajapaksa, acknowledged that many sectors of the economy, especially tourism, were hard hit due to the pandemic and the Government had to bear a heavy burden to sustain those affected.

“The lockdowns, together with general movement restrictions, reduced international travel, and slower global growth have affected nearly all sectors of our economy. Tourism, one of Sri Lanka’s highest foreign exchange earners and a sector that supports nearly 14 percent of the population, has been devastated.This industry, together with small and medium businesses in many other sectors, received Government support through interest moratoriums and other financial sector interventions,” he said.

He added that daily wage earners and low-income groups were also supported through grants of cash and dry rations during lockdowns, adding significantly to state expenditure.

“In addition to their immediate impact, these economic repercussions of the pandemic have limited the fiscal space available to implement our development programs.”

Moving on to other matters of international concern, the President spoke in length about environmental protection and the responsibility of all nations regarding climate change as this would be an even greater challenge in the future.

Referring to the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, the President said “the unprecedented effect of human activity on the health of the planet is deeply worrying” and that threats posed by climate change and loss of biodiversity requires ‘decisive and urgent multilateral action’. He added that Sri Lanka is also a vulnerable country in this regard but is aware of the dangers as Buddhist teachings puts emphasis on and given guidance regarding environmental protection. The Buddha has laid importance on spreading loving kindness to all beings and coexisting with nature rather than conquering it.

“It is in these contexts that Sri Lanka is a Commonwealth Blue Charter Champion and leads the Action Group on Mangrove Restoration. Through the adoption of the Colombo Declaration on Sustainable Nitrogen Management, which seeks to halve nitrogen waste by 2030, Sri Lanka has also contributed to global efforts to reduce environmental pollution,” the President said.

“Having participated virtually in the Pre-Summit held in April, I trust that the United Nations Food Summit later this month will result in actionable outcomes to promote healthier, more sustainable, and equitable food systems globally,” he added.


The President also referred to the Saubagyagye Dekma policy in driving Sri Lanka’s ambitions forward. This was his pledge during his election and the Government through the ministries is tasked with fulfilling its goals in the next few years. Although the pandemic has slowed down the implementation process, the Government has already begun most of its plans even amid the pandemic. A highlight is the controversial ban on chemical fertiliser, pesticides and weedicides to revive the nation’s soil fertility. Although it was rife with criticism, it is a revolutionary decision that would bring unparalleled benefits to Sri Lanka’s agriculture, economy and environment.

“Sustainability is a cornerstone of Sri Lanka’s national policy framework,” he said. “Because of its impact on soil fertility, biodiversity, waterways and health, my Government banned the use of chemical fertiliser, pesticides, and weedicides earlier this year. Production and adoption of organic fertiliser, as well as investments into organic agriculture, are being incentivised.”

He also appreciated the encouragement received from many global institutions and nations for the efforts to create sustainable agriculture practices in Sri Lanka.

The President also highlighted the efforts on environmental conservation, stating that Sri Lanka aims to significantly increase forest cover in the coming decades. “We are also working to clean and restore over 100 rivers countrywide, and to combat river and maritime pollution. We have also banned single use plastics to support ecological conservation.”

The President’s Saubagyagye Dekma policy also gives emphasis to green energy and alternative energy sources. He said the policy seeks to increase the contribution of renewable sources such as solar, wind and hydropower to 70 percent of our national energy needs by 2030.

“Sri Lanka recognises the urgent need to reduce use of fossil fuels and support decarbonisation,” he said.

Trade and investment

The President called on the international community to support Sri Lanka in reviving the economy. Sri Lanka is placed in a unique strategic location in the Indian Ocean and the country needs to make use of this to attract trade and investment. The President said to facilitate this, the government intends to carry out extensive legal, regulatory, administrative and educational reforms.

“We intend to make full use of geostrategic location and our robust institutions, strong social infrastructure, and skilled workforce, to attract investment and broaden trade relationships.”

Hailing the democratic tradition as an integral part of the way of life, the President recalled the trust the people of Sri Lanka kept on him and his Government in the elections of 2019 and 2020. He reminded the audience that this was after Sri Lanka was recovering from the brutal Easter attacks and after the humanitarian operation to eradicate terrorism. He called on the international community to cooperate on countering such brutality and violence in the world.

“Terrorism is a global challenge that requires international cooperation, especially on matters such as intelligence sharing, if it is to be overcome. Violence robbed Sri Lanka of thousands of lives and decades of prosperity in the past half century,” said the President, adding “my Government is committed to ensuring that such violence never takes place in Sri Lanka again.”

Home-grown mechanism

Sri Lanka is also in the process of ensuring lasting peace in the country through accountability and reconciliation mechanisms. But this would be done through domestic institutions engaging all domestic stakeholders with the support of international partners, as emphasised by the President during his speech.

“So too is ensuring more equitable participation in the fruits of economic development,” he added.

The President said Sri Lanka’s Parliament, Judiciary and its range of independent statutory bodies should have unrestricted scope to exercise their functions and responsibilities. He also called on the UN to treat ‘all sovereign states, irrespective of size or strength, equitably, and with due respect for their institutions and their heritage’ and added that all should ‘work together in a spirit of true cooperation, generosity, goodwill, and mutual respect to foster a better and more sustainable future for all humanity’.