Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa invoked Buddhism in urging measures to address the growing threat from the climate crisis and to protect the Buddhist heritage of Afghanistan. Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Wednesday, Rajapaksa addressedrepresentatives from the assembly’s 193 member nations on these issues and others ranging from COVID-19 to international trade and economics.
Sri Lanka is deemed to be “highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change” according to a 2018 report by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The report highlights that the island nation’s long coastline places it at risk from tropical storms and rising sea levels. The report also states that key economic activities in the country, “including tourism, commercial agriculture, and manufacturing are extremely vulnerable to extreme weather events and sea level rise.” (Climatelinks)
“As devastating as the consequences of the pandemic have been to humanity, the world faces the even greater challenge of climate change in the decades to come. As emphasized in the recent report by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, the unprecedented effect of human activity on the health of the planet is deeply worrying,” Rajapaksa stated. “Addressing the grave threats posed by climate change and the loss of biodiversity requires decisive and urgent multilateral action.” (Colombo Telegraph)
“As a climate-vulnerable country, Sri Lanka is deeply aware of the dangers of climate change. Sri Lanka’s philosophical heritage, deeply rooted in Lord Buddha’s teachings, also emphasizes the vitality of preserving environmental integrity. It is in these contexts that Sri Lanka is a Commonwealth Blue Charter Champion and leads the Action Group on Mangrove Restoration,” Rajapaksa observed. “Through the adoption of the Colombo Declaration on Sustainable Nitrogen Management, which seeks to halve nitrogen waste by 2030, Sri Lanka has also contributed to global efforts to reduce environmental pollution.” (Colombo Telegraph)
Rajapaksa also shared his concerns about the situation in Afghanistan, where Taliban forces swept into power last month after US and allied forces made their final withdrawal from the country. Of notable concern are the priceless Buddhist antiquities in the country, including those in the Afghan National Museum in Kabul as well as those in sites still undergoing excavation.
“If, in keeping with the theme of our General Debate today, we are to truly build resilience through hope, we must all strive toward the common good,” Rajapaksa said. “It is the role of the United Nations to facilitate this by treating all sovereign states, irrespective of size or strength, equitably, and with due respect for their institutions and their heritage.” (Colombo Telegraph)
“I request the United Nations and the international community to ensure the protection of the Buddhist heritage of Afghanistan,” Rajapaksa said. “I call on the member states of this august assembly to work together in a spirit of true cooperation, generosity, goodwill, and mutual respect to foster a better and more sustainable future for all humanity.” (Colombo Telegraph)
In 2001, the last time the Taliban were in control of the country, they destroyed the ancient sandstone Buddha statues at Bamiyan. The situation in the country remains uncertain for millions of Afghans, particularly women, opposed to the Taliban rule. And, while the Taliban have claimed to be different, conservationists, curators, and archeologists are doubtful about the prospects for Buddhist antiquities in the country.
Climate Risk Profile: Sri Lanka (Climatelinks)
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Full Speech To The UN General Assembly (Colombo Telegraph)
Sri Lanka urges protection of Afghan Buddhist heritage (The Phnom Penh Post)
Buddhist heritage of Afghanistan must be protected: Rajapaksa at UN (The New Indian Express)
Related news reports from Buddhistdoor Global
Future of Ancient Buddhist City of Mes Aynak, Afghanistan in Doubt Again after Taliban Takeover
Afghan Museums Fear for Ancient Buddhist Artifacts amid Taliban Takeover
Archaeologist Killed Near Buddhist Archaeological Site of Mes Aynak in Afghanistan
Ancient Buddhist Artefacts from Afghanistan Restored in Japan
Is Time Running Out for the 5,000-year-old Mes Aynak Archaeological Site in Afghanistan?
Related features from Buddhistdoor Global
Buddhistdoor View: Afghanistan – Mourning a Global Failure
Buddhist Traces in Afghanistan: Reminiscences of Peace and War
Buddhistdoor View: The Case for Rebuilding the Bamiyan Buddhas to Their Original Glory
The Nostalgia of 2,500 Years: Celebrating South Asia’s Buddhist Heritage
Buddhistdoor View: Heritage Conservation