President Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday appealed to the leaders of South Asia to divert the colossal defense expenditure towards development, research and technology to reduce poverty and suffering in the region.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa addressed the fourth South Asian Conference on Sanitation in Colombo

Addressing the final sessions of the three-day South Asian Conference on Sanitation (SACOSAN), President Rajapaksa stressed that Sri Lanka’s humanitarian initiatives had enabled the government not just to end a 30-year-old conflict but to divert resources earlier spent on the war towards welfare and development. “I can say this as our government not only has ended a painful and costly war against terrorism and we have reduced our defense expenditure that had been well in excess of 5% of GDP before 2005 to around 3% last year. This is a level required only to provide national security and to sustain peace in the country,” President Rajapaksa emphasized. “We need to give the benefits of economic growth back to the peopIe so that they could afford their basic needs,” he said.

At a time when the world is faced with so many disasters both natural and man-made, it was necessary to be prepared to face the sanitation needs of our countries. Sri Lanka can take pride in our ability to have met the challenges of sanitation during two extremely difficult situations, in recent years. The first was the tragic tsunami that occurred in December 2004. The next was the rehabilitation and resettlement of nearly 300,000 people, after the successful defeat of terrorism in 2009.

“Rural expenditure, which includes the provision of water, sanitation and a clean environment, should be made our top priority instead of excessive expense on arms and defense related items. Therefore, at a ministerial conference such as this, our determination should be to appeal to the world to divert their defense allocations towards development” he added. “Sri Lanka had already committed ourselves towards the goal of providing universal access to water and good sanitation by the year 2020. We are confident of achieving this, as we have already achieved the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) in key areas such as the lowest maternal mortality rate in South and South East Asia.”

“We are well on the way to achieving the MDGs in universal primary education, gender parity in primary education, and maternal and child health. Our country is on course to achieve the MDG target for declining poverty by 2015. Sanitation and related good hygiene plays a significant role in all of this, President Rajapaksa said. I am aware that we in the SAARC Region have made three important Ministerial Declarations to ensure proper sanitation for our people. As with all other such declarations there is a necessity for the political will of governments to be harnessed towards making them a reality,” the President concluded.Water Supply and Drainage Minister Dinesh Gunawardana delivered the welcome address.

Source: Daily Mirror