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Speeches & Transcripts September 9, 2021

Role of forests in Green, Resilient, and Inclusive Pandemic Recovery in Sri Lanka

Good morning.

Mr. Somarathne Vidanapathirana, Secretary of the Ministry of Wildlife and Forest Conservation, Mr. Palitha Fernando, State Secretary of the State Ministry of Wildlife Protection, Adaptation of Safety Measures (including the Construction of Electric Fences and Trenches and Restoration and Forest Resource Development), distinguished speakers and panel members, ladies and gentlemen.

First, on behalf of the World Bank, I would like to express our sympathy to those impacted by the ongoing pandemic. We will continue to try our best to support the Government of Sri Lanka in protecting people’s lives and fostering inclusive recovery and growth.

Next, I would like to thank the organizers, the Forest Department and the Eco-Systems Conservation and Management Project (ESCAMP), for organizing this event to announce preparation of the 2021-2030 Forest Sector Master Plan. We are pleased to partner with that Government of Sri Lanka in developing a masterplan that would give new strategic directions to benefit Sri Lanka.

Let me now turn to why we think this is important at this juncture of Sri Lanka’s history where the country is exploring ways to rise above the pandemic, support its poor and sustain economic growth while protecting the environment.

COVID-19 hit hard across the globe, especially the poor and vulnerable. Years of efforts of poverty reduction and shared prosperity have suffered their worst setback in decades. We understand that exceptional and urgent national and global actions must tackle these combined negative impacts while countries are adapting to post-pandemic realities.

The World Bank Group announced an approach in April 2021 to find new solutions to address poverty, inequality and climate change in our member countries. The approach calls for policies and programs that are sustainable, take a broad-based approach to economic growth without harming the environment or leaving people behind in poverty. We call this Green, Resilient and Inclusive Development or GRID.

Adopting an integrated GRID approach allows us an opportunity to support green, resilient, and inclusive recovery that tackles rising poverty and deepening inequality while addressing both the immediate devastation wrought by COVID-19 and the longer-term challenge of Climate Change.

It is indeed heartening to see the efforts of the Government of Sri Lanka to take a balanced approach to recovery and development. As we heard from the earlier speakers, this forest sector masterplan will build on over 30 years of experience and lessons learnt from the previous plans. It is expected to include new paradigms in managing Sri Lanka’s forests, better conserving and restoring forest landscapes and enhancing human well-being, serving the needs of the economy.

Forests of Sri Lanka are unique and globally recognized and valued. They not only provide timber and non-timber resources for mostly rural population but also support agriculture and farming, provide and regulate water, protect soils and coastal line, businesses and people from erosion and natural disasters.

Economically, the gross value added generated by the production of major wood and wood products included in the national accounts was LKR 212.8 billion in 2019, which is more than US$ 1 billion. But if we look at various natural capital and ecosystem services provided by Sri Lanka’s forests, it is BIG and estimated at US$ 5.6 billion. We also understand that several million people live near and inside the forest in Sri Lanka and use its resources directly or indirectly.

World Bank understands the important role of forests in supporting the rural poor and Sri Lanka’s economy, and we fully support development of this new strategy. The ongoing US$ 35 million ESCAMP has been supporting the Forest Department and the Department of Wildlife Conservation. We are going to work hand in hand with the Forest Department and other stakeholders in strategizing and developing sustainable strategies and investment plans for the sector.

Developing an effective, realistic master plan and building a consensus around it is critical for the country’s development, because restoration and sustainable, multiple use of the country’s forests bring benefits not only to those who directly use or live around forests, but also to the whole economy.

Benefits of the masterplan’s strategies and activities will extend to many sectors and economic activities—such as climate-smart agriculture, nature-based tourism, and health sector among others.

Finally, let me conclude by commending the Government’s efforts to undertake extensive consultations throughout the process, and engage multiple stakeholders such as forestry sector experts, foresters, multi-disciplinary professionals, government institutions, civil society organisations, private sector organisations, and the media to develop the 2021-2030 Forest Sector Master Plan.

Thank you for your attention. I wish you all the best in the preparation process and look forward to receiving the Master Plan.