(LANKAPUVATH | COLOMBO) – Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa delivering the Inaugural Address at the Indian Ocean Conference (IOC) held in Abu Dhabi on Saturday emphasized that everyone in the region should work together to revive the economy after the COVID-19 pandemic situation.
President Rajapaksa noted that the measures taken worldwide to combat the pandemic, although they proved invaluable in saving countless lives, came at a steep cost and the rapid decline in economic activity these measures caused have had serious long-term consequences on global travel, trade, and economic growth.
The President pointed out that developing countries in particular have been very badly impacted by this and that this can only be achieved through the support provided by richer nations to developing countries.
The President said the COVID-19 pandemic will not end until everyone, everywhere is inoculated against the virus and requested the nations with capabilities to provide assistance to underprivileged nations to make their vaccination drives productive.
In contrast to the leadership provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) for the global pandemic response, no world institution has stepped forward to help countries navigate their economic recovery. Although the pandemic has affected rich and poor countries alike, a disproportionate impact is borne by poorer countries.
The President pointed out that the economies that are already burdened with external debt obligations are facing hardships and therefore, it would be greatly appreciated if more action could be taken by wealthy nations as well as multilateral organizations to forgive, restructure, or grant moratoria for the debt repayments of poorer countries struggling in the wake of the pandemic.
As the pandemic has shown, adverse situations in one country can quickly have ramifications on the wider region and eventually on the globe itself. That is why the countries across the region and the world at large must work together to solve problems that affect nations, whether in terms of epidemics, economy, or ecology. The President said the ongoing climate crisis is perhaps the most difficult challenge that humanity needs to overcome.
The X-Press Pearl disaster was not an isolated incident. The fire on board the MT New Diamond was successfully doused through concerted efforts. The President pointed out that both these incidents point towards the urgent need for stricter controls surrounding the oceanic transport of hazardous and environmentally sensitive materials.
Extra-territorial fishing by well-equipped trawlers is another significant problem in the region that affects the livelihoods of poor communities that rely on local fishing for their sustenance. The President said coordinated action to mitigate such issues will be critical in sustaining the overall ecology and the viability of local economies in the Indian Ocean region in the future and proposed the establishment of a regional mechanism to coordinate such issues relating to sustainability.
While stating that it must be admitted that the Indian Ocean region is also the location of considerable criminal activity, including human smuggling, drugs smuggling, and terrorism, President Rajapaksa said narcotics trafficking remains a significant problem for countries in this region and that this can only effectively be dismantled through coordinated efforts between the intelligence services, Coast Guards and Navies of regional countries.
The President pointed out similar coordination and cooperation will be required to contain human trafficking and said such coordination will also be required to counter the threat posed by religious extremism and terrorism in countries in the region. The President said extremist and terrorist ideology can spread with ease from nation to nation unless carefully monitored and suppressed.
The first Indian Ocean Conference commenced in 2016 with the objective of discussing issues of common interest and concerns to countries in the Indian Ocean region and other countries using the Indian Ocean. The Fourth Summit was held in the Maldives in 2019 and the theme was “Securing the Indian Ocean Region: Traditional and Non-Traditional Challenges”. The theme of IOC 2021 is “Ecology, Economy, Epidemic”.
In his Special Address to the forum, Foreign Minister of Oman Sayyid Badr Bin Hamad Bin Hamood Al Busaidi said President Gotabaya Rajapaksa paved the way for a productive discussion that can act as a platform for effective multilateral action across the Indian Ocean. The Omani Foreign Minister further said we need to take steps today to conserve the extraordinary beauty and biodiversity of the ocean for our future generations and crucially reverse the damage already done through overfishing and pollution.
External Affairs Minister of India S. Jaishankar said Indian Ocean nations are called upon today to take greater responsibilities, create better relationships and display more initiatives. He also said in his Keynote Address that we need to expeditiously normalize travel through certification recognition so that the livelihoods affected by the COVID-19 pandemic are restored.
Foreign Ministers representing 18 countries and more than 200 delegates from over 40 countries are attending the conference.