This time of year is a period for reflection for many people around the world. For the people of Sri Lanka it brings back acutely painful memories, but also for the first time in many years, a genuine sense of hope.
On December 26, 2004, one of the worst natural disasters in modern times befell our country and we required aid and other support from the world on an unprecedented scale.
The tsunami that struck the length of Sri Lanka's eastern coast and enshrouded the island had a devastating effect. In a matter of moments, over 40,000 people had lost their lives and a further 20,000 were injured. More than half a million people were displaced with in excess of 100,000 homes destroyed.
Those who survived or who came to assist in the aftermath, from across Sri Lanka and from abroad, will never forget the horror the ocean wrought on the island that day.
Thankfully those events are in the past. And for the people especially in the north, east and south that survived and gradually rebuilt their lives with the assistance of the international community, NGOs and Sri Lanka's own Reconstruction and Development Agency (RADA), it can finally be said that the future holds great promise. For, our people are now living without the threat of terrorism for the first time in over a quarter of a century.
This closing of a chapter will bring improvements in quality of life beyond many Sri Lankans' living memories.
For a country that has managed average economic growth of over 6% since 2005, despite our difficulties, it is clear that our promise is significant, something that is beginning to be recognized internationally.
In October 2007, in the midst of the sub-prime crisis, Sri Lanka floated its debut U.S. $500 million sovereign bond which was three times over-subscribed. And in October of this year the Government issued a second $500 million sovereign bond that received the highest oversold subscription of the year, over 13 times over-subscribed, while both Fitch and S&P have revised their ratings from 'negative' to 'stable'.
Analysts are now excitedly talking about Sri Lanka as the next Singapore and comprehensive plans are being put in place to make this vision a reality.
We are increasingly seeing large investment funds flood money into the country, not as an act of generosity, but because they see the potential that is being unlocked in Sri Lanka.
Over the whole of Sri Lanka, massive infrastructure projects are taking place, from the construction of one of the largest deep water ports in the Indian Ocean, at Hambontota in the south, to the establishment of the Trincomalee Investment and Tourist Zone in the east. Formerly at the heart of our troubled areas, Trincomalee, with its natural harbour and scenic beauty, is now emerging as a potentially major commercial and industrial hub in the South Asian region and a tourism destination in its own right.
Moreover Sri Lanka's people have talent. Our potential as an outsourcing destination is already being recognized and the success of our expatriate doctors and engineers, lawyers and accountants, confirms just what extraordinary capabilities our people posses.
We also have a thriving garment industry that not only provides the West with value goods, but also enshrines the highest of labor conditions and environmental standards.
We have vast untapped potential in our fertile agricultural lands, particularly in the north and east -- previously setback through terror for three decades and now active once again.
And there's tourism. Overseas visitors have always flocked to Sri Lanka, but never in the numbers that we could have achieved without the threat of terrorism. With terrorism now at an end, we have set an annual target of 2.5 million visitors by 2016. We encourage people from around the world to come and experience the unrivaled Sri Lankan spirit of hospitality.
So, five years on from the terrible events of 2004, now is truly an exciting time for our country. We are creating a land of opportunity for all Sri Lankans and no-one will be left behind. Aid is no longer the priority for us. We offer investment opportunities, an island of beauty and tranquility to be enjoyed, not pitied.
Sri Lanka is ready to make its mark. Our troubles are behind us and we look forward to welcoming the world. As scientist and writer Arthur C. Clarke said of his adopted home, this is the best place in the world from which to view the universe.