Pathfinder Foundation and the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue co-hosted the “Colombo Round-table: Climate Change, Public Policy and Humane Governance” at the Cinnamon Grand Hotel last week. It was attended by policymakers, academia, and subject specialists. Douglas Devananda, Minister of Fisheries was the chief guest and delivered special remarks.

Mr. Hemant S. Katoch, South Asia Coordinator; Dr. Sreejith Sugunan, Project Lead – South and Southeast Asia; and Mr. CHU Weng Lam, Project Associate – South and Southeast Asia, represented the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue.

The round-table provided a platform for a free and open discussion on maritime affairs in the Bay of Bengal region with a particular emphasis on examining the inter-connectivity between climate change and maritime security, using Sri Lanka’s experience as a case study. This was with the view to identifying best practices and potential confidence-building measures (CBMs) that can provide input to the annual Bay of Bengal Maritime Dialogue, the fourth in the series which would be held in May 2024, co-hosted by Pathfinder Foundation and Centre Humanitarian Dialogue.

The event included two panel discussions. The first panel considered the humanitarian treatment of fishers and the building climate resilience in fishing communities. The second panel focused on Maritime Crisis Management and Communications in the Bay of Bengal.

In the first panel moderated by Ambassador (Retd.) Ahmed A. Jawad, Director, Pathfinder Foundation, Prof. Wasantha Rathnayake, Vice Chancellor, Ocean University and Ms. Rasanga Kumarihamy, Research Associate, Pathfinder Foundation presented their research findings.

The other panelists were Dr. Steve Creech, freelance fisheries consultant, and Mr. Hashan Wijesinghe, senior lecturer, University of Kelaniya. The discussion provided technical insights and potential solutions to the challenges faced by the fishing industry in Sri Lanka. One of the major issues discussed was the ongoing Indo-Lanka fishing dispute. The panel emphasized the need for urgent action to address this issue, compounded by bottom trawling and consequent degradation of the marine environment.

In the second panel moderated by Dr. Sreejith Sugunan, Project Lead, South and Southeast Asia, Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, Amb. (Retd.) Sumith Nakandala, former Secretary General, BIMSTEC, Admiral (Retd.) Y. N. Jayarathna, former Chief of Staff and Chief Hydrographer of the Sri Lanka Navy, Ms. Dharshani Lahandapura, former Chairperson of the Marine Environment Protection Authority, and Captain Prasad Vithanage, Director of Operations, Sri Lanka Coast Guard, made presentations based on their institutional experiences and provided recommendations for the future.

The discussions examined issues such as illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, natural disasters, climate change, environmental degradation, humanitarian crises, migration, geopolitical competition, lack of regional cooperation, piracy, and maritime terrorism.