Environment and Natural Resources Minister Rukman Senanayake held an intensive round of meetings in Washington DC on 31 March and 1 April, seeking to win closer engagement by US Government agencies, multilateral organizations and key international non-government organizations with the nature conservation establishment in Sri Lanka.

The Minister met with Christine Todd Whitman, Administrator of the US Environment Protection Agency (EPA) and discussed the need for increased environmental safeguards in Sri Lanka. Ms Whitman, who is a former Governor of New Jersey and a close aide of President George W. Bush, agreed to extend significant support to Sri Lanka's environmental activities through existing US EPA and future US Governmental programs such as the Millennium Challenge Account, which will deliver significant bilateral development assistance to selected countries. The US is also expected to assist Sri Lanka to establish a carbon trading mechanism.

Minister Senanayake also met with Mohamed El-Ashry, Chairman of the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), and discussed on-going GEF grants to Sri Lanka, which amount to US$ 9 million. Mr. El-Ashry agreed to a request by the Minister that a further series of small and medium-scale grants be offered to Sri Lankan nature-conservation NGOs and community organizations to strengthen conservation activities at the local level.

The Minister also had detailed discussions with the leaderships of several key international NGOs including the World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy. Conservation International has already called on Sri Lanka to develop a comprehensive biodiversity management plan, to be supported by the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund established by GEF and Japan. The World Wildlife Fund expressed interest in programs related to elephants, turtles and whales.

In a meeting with World Bank Vice-President Ian Johnson, the Minister emphasized the need for new projects to follow up on the Environmental Action Plan project and also the on-going Wildlife and Forestry-sector projects. Dr Johnson agreed with a proposal by the Minister that the need of the hour was for integrated multi-disciplinary projects that would address cross-sector, rather than purely environmental, projects. Accordingly, the Ministry will now develop a multi-sector project to encompass environment and natural resource issues across also the land and water sectors, in consultation with the relevant line ministries.

Minister Senanayake also took time off to meet with Dr. Thomas Lovejoy, one of the most respected conservation biologists in the United States. In an hour-long meeting with the Minister, Lovejoy shared his 25-year experience in working on biodiversity conservation in the Amazon, which bears several similarities to the conditions in Sri Lanka, where rainforest conservation is a key concern.

The Minister was accompanied by Mr. Rohan Pethiyagoda, Advisor to the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, Sri Lanka's Ambassador to the US Devinda R. Subasinghe and Dayani Mendis, Second Secretary, Embassy of Sri Lanka.

Embassy of Sri Lanka
Washington DC

02 April 2003

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