In response to public interest, the World Bank in Sri Lanka chose to host a dialogue, offering an opportunity for anyone to meet the World Bank team and directly ask questions related to environment protection, disaster risk management and the economy.
In fact, the engagement began with a Twitter chat earlier in the week that saw participation from across the region, before moving on to a public discussion. In attendance at the latter were close to a hundred people, including members of the conservation community, academia, sustainability advocates, consultant companies and, perhaps most encouragingly, young people who were interested in discussing critical issues facing the environment.
Both events were also linked to an online campaign marking World Environment day with the theme “Connecting People to Nature”. The goal of the campaign was to draw people in, inviting engagement and promoting transparency and awareness of the Bank’s work in this field.
As part of the public dialogue in Colombo, everyone was invited to participate in a fun quiz organised by the environment team that tested the audience’s knowledge of Sri Lankan landscapes, flora and fauna. Structured as a poll, the questions evoked laughter and promoted discussion.
It was also a moment to celebrate the winners of the #StoriesfromLKA, with each picture being a tribute to the island’s distinctive biodiversity and awe inspiring landscapes. The three young photographers won on the basis of online votes and stepped up to claim their prizes.
A Broad Range of Questions
The sessions were built around the theme of Economic Benefits of Environment Management. With a focus on how the island nation could bolster both its financial and physical resilience, the conversation was grounded in the experiences of key World Bank staff, the evolution of their particular interests and their ongoing encounters with environment issues. Post a short series of introductory questions, the session was thrown open to the audience, allowing for a candid exchange with the panel.
The World Bank team was made up of Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough, Country Director for Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Ralph van Doorn, Senior Country Economist, Darshani de Silva, Senior Environment Specialist and Suranga Kahandawa, Senior Disaster Risk Management Specialist.
The public discussion saw the panel of four tackle a wide-ranging set of questions from the audience. These included questions tied to the broader issues of disaster response, environmental protection and growing the Sri Lankan economy.
Other questions that came from the crowd were focused on the Bank itself, asking for insight into how safeguards operated for instance, or how the bank chose its investments.
In his responses, Ralph was able to draw on the findings of the recently released Sri Lanka Development Update, of which he is an author, to emphasise how planning for and managing natural disasters was critical to the Sri Lankan economy’s long-term prospects. He said a key test of fiscal resilience would be the state’s ability to disburse funds quickly in time of disaster.
Darshani fielded questions around environmental protection, water management, energy generation and conservation programs emphasising the need for an integrated approach that took into account the challenges offered by extreme weather events and climate change.
Suranga was able to draw on his research into disaster risk management in Sri Lanka to highlight how crucial data collection was, and what solutions emerging technologies such as GPS mapping, and modelling offered various ministries, who could then use these accessible new platforms to inform their efforts and protect vulnerable communities.
Attitudinal Shift Critical
Speaking of how the World Bank chose its focus areas, and throwing light on the internal conversations that allowed the organisation to be flexible enough to respond to challenges as they appeared and to evolve their projects accordingly, Idah highlighted how an attitudinal shift was critical.
Groups such as this, made up of engaged citizens, could play a key role in promoting the conservation agenda, while ensuring the country’s development drive was sustainable, equitable and environmentally sensitive.
“Everyone needs to put their minds together to find solutions,” she said. “When things go wrong, is when we see ourselves as ‘us vs. them’… [Instead, even when we disagree] I think the ideal situation is that we sit and we talk, and then we find the best way to go forward. When it comes to environmental management I think it’s clear that everyone has a role to play.” (World Bank)