Ambassador Chung’s Remarks at World Water Day Event

March 22, 2023

Honorable Prime Minister, Dinesh Gunawardena;

Honorable Jeevan Thondaman, Minister of Water Supply & Estate Infrastructure Development;

Dr. Thanuja Ariyananda, Executive Director of the Lanka Rainwater Harvesting Forum;

Board Members of Lanka Rainwater;

Ladies and Gentlemen;

Good afternoon!  I am delighted to join you to celebrate World Water Day.

It seems a little ironic to talk about water conservation in a country that annually averages benefits from about 2,000 millimeters of rain. But the reality is this generous gift from nature doesn’t benefit all Sri Lankans as much as it could, with less than half of rural Sri Lankans having access to piped water.

That is why I’m so proud that the United States is partnering with Sri Lanka to improve water management.  This work builds on an amazing history in Sri Lanka, including complex ancient water works dating back to 300 BCE.

Today the United States government, through the U.S. Agency for International Development, is working with the Lanka Rainwater Harvesting Forum to bring good drinking water to Sri Lankans.  And bringing clean, safe drinking water to more Sri Lankans is what this forum is all about.

World Water Day raises global awareness for the two billion people currently living without access to safe water. As we celebrate one of the world’s most precious resources, it’s vitally important that we also focus on ways to manage it for the future.

This year’s theme for World Water Day is “Accelerate Change.” The theme fits nicely as we celebrate the 75th anniversary of bilateral relations between the United States and Sri Lanka.  The theme of our year of celebration is what our 75 years of relations has been focused on:  People, Progress, and Partnership.

It is, in fact, our partnership with the Lanka Rainwater Harvesting Forum that has accelerated the change needed to bring drinking water to 100,000 Sri Lankans.

Across the globe, billions of people and countless schools, businesses, healthcare centers, farms, and factories don’t have water. To address this problem, we must go beyond “business as usual.” To that end, the United Nations asks us all to learn about the problem, to share what we know, and most importantly to ACT!

Act Responsibly, that is.

I’ve witnessed first-hand wasteful practices even in the face of water shortages, so this is a personal issue for me. I grew up in California, and our climate is very dry. For my entire childhood, water scarcity was a constant challenge. Climate change makes these problems worse. California has gone from suffering drought to suffering from historic rainfall, but even that drives home the point that the effective management of water remains a constant challenge.

When I was a girl growing up and California was suffering various levels of drought, my family was sacrificing to conserve water. But I would see my neighbors watering their lawns! It made me angry even as a child.  As an adult, well, I still get angry, but I’ve also learned it is far better to take action.

We all have to talk to our neighbors, our relatives, and our friends. We have to take advantage of new technology and new management techniques, large and small, to conserve and more efficiently use the water we have available to us.  Because that water might not be available next month, or next year, or for our children and grandchildren.

This is why we need to meet the challenge.  This is why we need to change our habits and encourage others.  This is why we need to look for new and more efficient ways to use water – and we need to do it now.  This is why we need to “Accelerate Change!”

Unlike California, Sri Lanka gets plenty of rain. Here we have the wonderful opportunity to save that water and use it wisely.

We’ve made some great progress, too. USAID has partnered with Lanka Rainwater Harvesting Forum since 2012 and the partnership has accomplished a lot.

Besides bringing drinking water to 100,000 people, we’ve partnered to build more than 1,600 rainwater harvesting tanks for households and communities. We’ve also educated communities on the benefits of rainwater harvesting, trained people to maintain and operate these systems, and supported research related to rainwater harvesting.

You know March is Women’s History Month and we’re celebrating women’s achievements in Sri Lanka and everywhere. I was thrilled to learn that, with USAID support, Lanka Rainwater is working with women masons to build the tanks that hold the water for the communities where they work.

This simple, Sri Lankan-developed water harvesting system can be used by everyone and Lanka Rainwater is ready to expand its use.  But it needs help. The private sector must step up to help expand the use of rainwater tanks and other conservation systems.

Private citizens can and must do more, too, and I’d like to give a shout out to some people in the audience who I know are working diligently in resource management efforts, in addition to our hosts at Lanka Rainwater.

D. Malkanti was the first female mason to receive training from the Lanka Rainwater Harvesting Forum. I also see two members of the U.S.-supported Climate Action Champion Network, a group of private individuals across south Asia focused on climate issues. Saajid Malhardeen is an engineer with a passion for sustainable building technologies and climate action. Hamdhan Munawwar is a green entrepreneur, who works with spatial data for biodiversity. I probably don’t understand it, but I know your work is vital and I am proud that the U.S. government is supporting you. Thank you.  Keep it up.  And good luck.

I also want to thank our hosts and partners.  Specifically, Dr. Tanuja Ariyananda and your innovative, dedicated team at Lanka Rainwater Harvesting Forum.  Thank you.  You all deserve tremendous credit for 25 years of support to the Sri Lankan people and for pioneering innovative, technologically appropriate, and effective rainwater harvesting. Your organization is a thought leader in water conservation, and you are a model for the region and the world.

I urge others to follow their model of community involvement, with a focus on women and simple, easily scaled technology.  I also urge everyone to remember that “Accelerate Change” is an imperative – NOT just a catchy phrase. The mission is clear. The time to act is now. The responsibility is ours.  Let’s “Accelerate Change” to meet the challenge of water conservation.

Thank you.