“Today’s gathering underscores our united stand against one of our era’s most daunting challenges” -Hon Ruwan Wijewardene’s

Esteemed guests, distinguished delegates, respected colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen

It is my great pleasure to welcome you all to Colombo for the fourth edition of the South Asia Hydromet Forum. At the outset, let me extend my gratitude to the World Bank, United Kingdom Met Offsice, the Regional integrated Multi- hazard Early Warning System for Africa and Asia, World Meteorological Organization, and the FCDO for organizing this conference to be a pivotal platform for collaboration, knowledge exchange, and tackling weather and climate challenges in South Asia.

Today’s gathering underscores our united stand against one of our era’s most daunting challenges: climate change and its intensifying impacts on socio- economic development and growth. South Asia is increasingly at the frontline of this battle. Sri Lanka, significantly affected by weather-related losses, incurred damages nearing US$7 billion from 1990 to 2018. Looking ahead, we face an even starker reality: by 2050, an expected 7.7% GDP decline in Sri Lanka could translate to a loss of US$50 billion, with 87% of our population potentially facing extreme weather conditions.

Extreme weather events, ranging from torrential rains to severe droughts, have drastically impacted Sri Lanka’s infrastructure, economy, and citizens’ lives and livelihoods natural environment, The ramifications on our economy are profound, particularly in the agricultural sector, which has suffered greatly due to variability of the rainfall. Transport disruptions due to landslides and floods are common during monsoon rains, affecting rural connectivity to markets, health care, education, employment opportunities, and other critical basic services. Such events pose a significant threat to our developmental strides, often erasing years of progress with a single catastrophic event.

This brings into sharp focus the indispensable role of Hydromet services. The improvement of hydro-met services, which offer real-time weather, water, and climate information and early warnings for communities and sectors, is critical to minimize climate impacts. Actionable and location-specific warnings for instance for potential landslides help communities to act well in advance and have saved many lives through timely evacuation. Weather forecasts are being used extensively in the agricultural sector for informing the timing of cultivating, spraying, and harvesting. Sri Lanka can build on these successes and expand tailored forecasting to other sectors to optimize operations and maximize economic outputs — for example, in the water and energy sectors.

Significant modification of strategies, infrastructure, systems, and practices will be needed to withstand the effects of climate change. Appropriate adaptation measures for infrastructure and the overall system ability to cope in extreme weather event situations should be carefully assessed in view of emerging risks. “No regrets” investments, which provide benefits and are justified from economic, social, and environmental perspectives whether natural hazard events or climate change take place, are needed for both “hard” adaptation measures such as infrastructure and “soft” adaptation measures such as incentives and demand management.

They are more than scientific tools; they are the lifelines for our farmers and fishermen, the guardians at our frontlines. These services underpin our policymaking, shape our developmental strategies, and are essential in crafting our responses to environmental adversities.

Acknowledging the climate and environmental challenges, Sri Lanka is committed to bolstering its resilience. We’ve woven climate actions into our national agenda, actively enhancing our capabilities to prepare and response to the adverse impacts. Our Climate Prosperity Plan, focused on amplifying renewable energy and leveraging nature-based solutions for resilience, aligns with our National Adaptation Plan, charting a course for a climate-resilient future. Central to this is our Climate Information Management system, a key aspect of the National Adaptation Plan, prioritizing timely, actionable information and early warning systems. A testament to this commitment is our newly launched Disaster Early Warning System, utilizing advanced technology for effective, telephone network-based alerts, complete with distinctive siren tones for public awareness and safety.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Solidarity and cooperation are essential on our path forward. Climate change, a crisis without borders, demands a collective response. Sri Lanka, embracing this reality, initiated the Tropical Belt Initiative at COP28, targeting the unique challenges of global warming and championing sustainable development for tropical nations. Furthering our commitment, we are proud to collaborate with the Maldives in establishing the International Climate Change University, a vital institution for capacity building and advancing climate science.

Forums like SAHF are critical in nurturing a collaborative spirit. By pooling our knowledge and resources, we can collectively enhance our readiness for climate challenge. Recent disasters in our region, such as Pakistan’s floods and Nepal’s landslides, underscore the urgency of robust early-warning systems. Sri Lanka’s experience with the Climate Resilience Multi Phase Program (Cres MPA) platform, aimed at mitigating flood risks in the Kelani basin and enhancing weather forecasts and early warnings nationwide, offers valuable lessons. We

look forward to sharing our insights and equally enthusiastic to learn from our neighboring countries’ successes.

The potential in hydromet service in boosting resilience is vast, particularly with private sector engagement and technological innovation. There’s a crucial need to improve the precision and timeliness of our forecasts and early warnings. It is essential to broaden tailored services and provide actionable information across sectors and timescales, an area where the private sector, with its drive for innovation, can help narrow and bridge the gap. By leveraging technology and digital solutions, we can transcend conventional limitations and cultivate more efficient, precise, and accessible services. I urge our development partners and donors to collaborate in this venture, contributing your expertise, resources, and dedication.

In conclusion, the significance of Hydromet services in building a resilient South Asia cannot be overstated. I am filled with optimism about what we can achieve together through this forum. Let us work hand in hand to build a future where our region is not only resilient in the face of climate change but also thriving and prosperous.

Thank you, and I wish you all a delightful and memorable evening ahead. Have a great evening, everyone!