Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has said that this time of year is a period for reflection for many people around the world. “For the people of Sri Lanka it brings back acutely painful memories, but also for the first time in many years a genuine sense of hope.”
The Sri Lankan president recalls that on the 26th December 2004, “one of the worst natural disasters in modern times befell our country and we required aid and other support from the world on an unprecedented scale.”
According to him, the tsunami that struck the length of Sri Lanka’s eastern coast and enwrapped the island had a devastating effect. “In a matter of moments, over 30,000 people had lost their lives and a further 20,000 were injured. More than half a million people were displaced with in excess of 100,000 homes destroyed.”
He added that those who survived or who came to assist in the aftermath, from across Sri Lanka and from abroad, will never forget the horror the ocean wrought on the island that day.
President Rajapaksa also said: “Thankfully those events are in the past. And for the people in the north and east that survived and gradually rebuilt their lives with the assistance of the international community, NGOs and Sri Lanka’s own Reconstruction and Development Agency (RADA), it can finally be said that the future holds great promise. For our people are now living without the threat of terrorism for the first time in over a quarter of a century.”
He added, this closing of a chapter will bring improvements in quality of life beyond many Sri Lankan’s living memories. “For a country that has managed average economic growth of over 6 percent since 2004, despite our difficulties, it is clear that our promise is significant, something that is beginning to be recognized internationally.
“In July the government issued a US$500 million sovereign bond that received the highest oversold subscription of the year, over 13 times oversubscribed, while both Fitch and S&P have revised their ratings from negative to stable.”
According to the president, analysts are now excitedly talking about Sri Lanka as the next Singapore and our Central Bank is putting in place comprehensive plans to make this vision a reality. “We are beginning to see large investment funds plough money into the country, not as an act of generosity, but because they see the potential that is being unlocked in Sri Lanka.”
He also confirmed that over the whole of Sri Lanka, massive infrastructure projects are taking place, from the construction of one of the largest deep water ports in the Indian Ocean, at Hambontota in the south, to the establishment of the Trincomalee Investment and Tourist Zone in the north east. Formerly at the heart of our troubled areas, Trincomalee is now marked out as a major potential commercial and industrial hub in the South Asian region.
He also emphasized on Sri Lanka’s work force. “Moreover Sri Lanka’s people have talent. Our potential as an outsourcing destination is already being recognized and you only have to look at the success of our Diaspora, doctors and engineers, lawyers and accountants, to know what extraordinary capabilities our people have.”
And while the Sri Lankan president mentioned his country’s “thriving garment industry” and “vast untapped potential in our fertile agricultural lands, particularly in the north,” he greatly emphasized his country’s tourism industry. He said: “And there’s tourism. Overseas visitors have always flocked to Sri Lanka, but never in the numbers that we could have achieved without the threat of terrorism. With this now at an end, we have set an annual target of 2.5 million visitors by 2016. We encourage people from around the world to come and experience the unrivaled Sri Lankan spirit of hospitality.”
In closing, he said: “So, five years on from the terrible events of 2004, now is truly an exciting time for our country. We are creating a land of opportunity for all Sri Lankans and no one will be left behind. Aid is no longer the priority for us. We offer investment opportunities, an island of beauty and tranquility to be enjoyed, not pitied.”
The Sri Lankan president’s statement comes at a time when the earthquake in Haiti is currently dominating the world of news. While, he has not directly acknowledged the tragic events in Haiti, his statement is proof that a destination’s resilience does play an impact in recovering from natural disasters.