Why Is Sri Lanka Poor
Sri Lanka has been suggested to be an early achiever of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in various areas. From primary school enrollment to universal reproductive health service provisions, Sri Lanka has made significant strides to improve the living conditions of its people. Poverty in the country has fallen from 22.7% in 2002 to 6.1% in 2012. However, large pockets of poverty remain which begs the question, why is Sri Lanka Poor?

3 Reasons Why Sri Lanka is Poor

  1. Previous Conflict
    Sri Lanka has been torn by civil war since 1983. The war resulted from ethnic tensions between the Buddhist Sinhalese majority and the Hindu Tamil minority. Between 80,000 and 100,000 lives were lost during the conflict and hundreds of thousands of others were displaced. In 2009, the civil war ended but stable peace was not achieved. Approximately 370,000 citizens were still displaced in Sri Lanka in 2012 while other citizens lost property and witnessed fragmentation in their communities. One of the main pockets of poverty that remains in Sri Lanka is in the former conflict districts in the Northern Province. For instance, 28.8% of individuals in the Mullaitivu district live in poverty on $1.90 USD or less a day in 2011. While Sri Lanka has shown large improvement in its development in recent years, the development has been suggested to be non-inclusive and unequal. Vulnerable groups are excluded in the country’s development upsurge.
  2. Education Disparities
    The regional disparities in Sri Lanka are partially due to variations in productive earnings opportunities. In 2012/13, more than 85% of Sri Lanka’s poor lived and worked in the rural sector of the economy. Among the bottom 40%, the main cause of poverty is education quality. Schools in rural areas or in areas that were previously affected by conflict have difficulty attracting qualified teachers to educate their children. With hundreds of schools in the north and east regions of Sri Lanka still needing repair from the 30-year civil war, children are not provided the necessary facilities to obtain a quality education. Education expenditure in 2014 only accounted for 1.9% of the country’s GDP and was around 7.3% of the government’s budget that year. Sri Lanka has one of the lowest tax-to-GDP rates internationally, which undercuts the government’s ability to invest in education. Why is Sri Lanka poor? The country lacks the proper public investments necessary to improve the educational facilities of the country. Without proper educational facilities for the youth of Sri Lanka, the children will lack the necessary skills for economic progression.
  3. Climate Change
    While the issues previously mentioned can be solved through national policy, the issues of climate change can only be solved with international cooperation. The recent heavy rains and mudslides in Sri Lanka are examples of the serious implications of climate change for the living standards of the Sri Lankan poor. The recent extreme weather events have left nearly 2,000 homes destroyed and more than half a million people displaced. With stagnant floodwaters, the fear of increasing the Dengue Fever crisis has amplified. The poor are sensitive to the climate as they depend on natural resources for their livelihoods. In 2015, 28% of Sri Lankans were still employed in the agricultural sector. With climate change, the summer rainfall and winter monsoons are now unpredictable and affect the growing season of crops in the country. Why is Sri Lanka poor? The recent changes in the climate have reduced crop yields and crop growth in Sri Lanka due to heat intolerance and water evaporation. This reduces the economic returns to those in the agricultural sector, leading to lower incomes for the individuals affected by these environmental changes. On top of the reduced livelihood security, the frequency of droughts, floods and rising sea waters in Sri Lanka is displacing communities due to shelter damage. Additionally, the conditions lead to malnutrition and the increased incidence of infectious disease. Since the beginning of the year, 53,000 cases of Dengue Fever have been recorded. As severe floods persist, other diarrheal diseases such as malaria, Hepatitis and cholera are expected to spread. With high temperatures and poor hygiene for the poor of Sri Lanka, the climate conditions will lead to bacterial proliferation. This further reduces the living standards of the poor.

The three reasons provided above do not completely answer the question: Why is Sri Lanka Poor? However, the topics do uncover important challenges faced in Sri Lanka. The country has made many strides in recent years to improve the living conditions of its citizens. But more should be done to protect the population from the changing climate and to produce an inclusive economy for all its citizens.

Tess Hinteregger

Photo: Flickr



Human Rights in Sri Lanka
Ridden with human rights violations, Sri Lanka is an example of the abuses that persist around the world. A 27-year civil war contributed to the lack of human rights in Sri Lanka. Although the war has ended, these violations have not. A new government instilled hope for many, but sadly a United Nations envoy discovered that human rights are still a pressing issue for the island country.

The conclusion of the civil war saw the massacre of an estimated 40,000 Tamils, an ethnic group that was seeking independence. The U.N. has made revelations in recent years that human rights were violated and ignored by both sides during the war.

The civil war saw fighting between government forces and the ethnic minority group the Tamils. The 27-year war caused the deaths of 100,000 people and created the foundation for unstable human rights in Sri Lanka. The war ended almost 10 years ago, but trials and accusations are still of concern to the U.N., Sri Lanka’s government and the Tamils.

Some accusations include withholding aid by the government and forced recruitment by the rebels. These are both considered human rights abuses and reaffirm that there have been consistent abuses of human rights in Sri Lanka.

Nearly 10 years after the end of an atrocious war, Sri Lanka has begun to realize the damage done and has instituted reforms and changes to better the future. The newly elected government of 2015 has been praised by organizations such as Human Rights Watch for ensuring that the police, judiciary system and human rights commissions are all independent sectors. These reforms signal progress, but Sri Lanka continues to be plagued with human rights abuses.

Women are universally at a disadvantage when it comes to human rights, and Sri Lanka is no exception. The U.N. Commissioner on human rights reported that barriers such as various languages, narrow knowledge on social norms around the world and a stigma that is associated with reporting sexual crimes have made Sri Lanka a dangerous place for women.

Although there is still work to be done, human rights in Sri Lanka could be headed for a prosperous future. With a progressive government in place, Sri Lanka is in a place to move forward. The civil war brought atrocities and decades of terror, but hope is the best choice for Sri Lanka.

Sophie Casimes
Photo: Flickr

Malaria in Sri Lanka
In the mid 20th century, Sri Lanka lied among the most malaria-stricken countries in the world. However, in September 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) certified the successful elimination of malaria in Sri Lanka. A remarkable public health achievement, Sri Lanka is the second country in South East Asia to eliminate malaria (the Maldives being the first).

Eighty percent of Sri Lanka’s population lives in rural areas– the ideal environment for the mosquito species Anopheles culicifacies, the main vector of malaria in the region. The Plasmodium falciparum parasite causes the disease and is carried by Anopheles mosquitoes that feed on the blood of humans.

For seven decades, the country prioritized making the nation malaria-free. Malaria in Sri Lanka soared in the 1970s and 1980s, and the nation started an anti-malaria campaign in the 1990s. A strategy targeted the parasite in addition to the mosquito.

In 1991, the country’s number of cases of malaria reached up to 400,000. The country’s civil war put soldiers in the most vulnerable positions, with 115 people dying from malaria in 1998.

At the end of the war in 2009, Sri Lanka’s Minister of Health launched a malaria elimination program, funded in part by the Global Funds to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The campaign included mobile malaria clinics in high transmission areas with effective surveillance, community engagement and health education.

This program enhanced the ability of the authorities to respond. Ever since the implementation of this campaign, the introduction of high surveillance maintains the elimination of the parasite in Sri Lanka.

The eradication of malaria in Sri Lanka raised the hopes of 30 other nations to end the disease that kills 400,000 people every year. As the director of the WHO’s Global Malaria program stated, the island country demonstrated that any government can eliminate malaria with improved efforts.

Aishwarya Bansal

Photo: Flickr

A Resolution to the Quality of Water in Sri Lanka
The U.N. estimates that in just nine years, half the people in the world will not have access to safe water. Water sources will be affected by climate change, pollution, war, over-development and unsustainable agriculture. Sri Lanka has an abundance of safe water resources, however, the water is not distributed equally.

Almost 90 percent of the people living in urban areas have access to safe water, compared with 60 percent of rural communities. The quality of water in Sri Lanka for the three million people living in dry zones can only be described as contaminated. There is no safe water source within a 200-mile radius, leaving people in the dry zones dependent on groundwater from dug wells and tube wells.

Chemicals, such as fluoride, nitrates and arsenic, are present in groundwater at very high levels as a result of their geogenic origin. Consequently, these chemical contaminants affect the quality of water in Sri Lanka’s dry zones and in turn, the health of people who get their water in dug wells and tube wells. An increase in kidney diseases and cancer in Sri Lanka has been attributed to exposure to these chemicals.

People have attempted to resolve issues with the quality of water in Sri Lanka with bowser-driven water distribution, residential rainwater harvesting plants and bottled water, but a long-term solution is needed. The Sri Lankan National Water Supply and Drainage Board awarded Veolia, a French firm, a $164 million contract to design and build five water treatment plants, 12 service reservoirs, five pumping stations and 430 kilometers of transmission and distribution pipes. The water treatment plants will be located in Matale, Ambangang, Ukuwela, Udatenna and Rattotta. The plants will provide clean safe drinking water to more than 350,000 people in the agricultural area of Greater Matale in central Sri Lanka.

Clean, safe water is critical to the health of a nation and its people. The five water treatment plants are just the beginning of efforts to provide a sustainable solution to the quality of water in Sri Lanka that provides the entire population with a clean, safe water.

Mary Barringer

Photo: Flickr

Public health midwives have been a part of Sri Lankan culture for nearly a century, but their role has recently evolved into a prominent one in the community. Midwives in Sri Lanka not only attend births, but now they also cover preventive health community services. Since approximately 72 percent of Sri Lankans live in rural areas, over 90 percent of public health midwives serve in rural communities, ensuring that typically neglected areas prone to high poverty rates still receive adequate health coverage.

Sri Lanka has committed itself to promoting gender equality. Absolute poverty rates, typically affecting females and children more than males, have been on the decline. As of 2013, 90 percent of Sri Lankan adult females are literate. One of the most impressive efforts to both alleviate poverty and promote the role of women in the community is the central role of midwives in Sri Lanka. The free provision of healthcare at all stages of life, coupled with the usage of traditional cultural practices, has allowed midwives to become respected, sought-after figures in communities. Midwives are viewed as trusted healthcare providers and provide medical guidance to both men and women. Midwives in Sri Lanka have also played a huge role in the high rate of attended births (98 percent) and the incredibly low maternal mortality rate (32 per 100,000 live births).

Improving maternal health has far-reaching effects due to the improvement of the quality of life for women. Access to education is improved. Girls now make up 50 percent of students in secondary education and have the opportunity to attend higher levels of education. Additionally, the focus on rural health by midwives in Sri Lanka is coupled with rural development efforts that have resulted in absolute poverty rates of less than 10 percent and improved access to safe drinking water and electricity.

New challenges are arising, such as a rise in noncommunicable diseases and low midwife recruitment numbers. However, adaptations are being made. Providing more educational opportunities for midwives, increasing their role in addressing public health issues like domestic violence, and offering more public sector employment incentives will be important moving forward. Midwives in Sri Lanka are not only an integral part of the healthcare system but also play an important part in promoting gender equality and opportunities for women.

Nicole Toomey

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Yowun Pura, or “The City of Youth,” is a youth program in Colombo, Sri Lanka that provides the nation’s student population the opportunity to contribute to national, social and economic development within their communities. It also provides them the chance to improve health and education in Sri Lanka by affording children the opportunity to stay, both mentally and physically active and asking for their feedback.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe formed the program himself while he was Minister of Education and Youth Affairs back in the 1980s. The Prime Minister speaks highly of the program, indicating that the youth are the most successful and contributive when it comes to quality of life and education in Sri Lanka.

The program, which is run through the Youth Camp and organized by the government, intends to provide local youth the skills necessary in order to actively and effectively contribute to their nation’s development.

Yowun Pura is a widespread effort to empower the nation’s youth by affording them the opportunity to strengthen social and economic development, as well as education in Sri Lanka. The program does so by working to develop relationships, dialogue and reconciliatory skills amongst Sri Lankan youth and between international youths.

Through group work and programs such as educational activities, sports, cultural events, entertainment and open dialogue, the program aims to open active discussion about national development with future generations and inspire the youngest generations to share their suggestions regarding the nation’s prosperity.

Though entirely voluntary, Yowun Pura is proud to shed the confines of race, religion and political parties in order to unite the nation’s youth. For this reason, the youth leadership program is considered an important advancement in the development of global education in Sri Lanka.

Jaime Viens

Photo: Flickr

Clean Water in Sri Lanka
In the face of unlikely odds, Sri Lanka has risen to carry the highest Human Development Index value in South Asia. But severe lifestyle disparities between rural and urbanized regions have led USAID to donate $1 million to provide access to clean water in Sri Lanka.

Over recent years, Sri Lanka has wrestled through a 27-year conflict, a devastating tsunami in 2004 and a global recession. Despite these catastrophic events, this country has achieved “middle-income status”. This growth has been steady enough for a striking vision in 2020: ideally, every family will experience healthy lifestyles and conditions on a daily basis.

Overall, access to clean water in Sri Lanka reaches nearly 86% of the population. While this is to be celebrated, the 14% who find themselves without access suffer terribly. Primarily, this consists of isolated rural regions, plantations and the remote east and north of the country. The poor-quality water consumed is believed to be closely related to malnutrition and poor education commonly found in these areas. In communities that are still being resettled, an estimated 40 percent of the residents practice open defecation, which is a major contributing factor to the fierce spread of water-borne diseases in Sri Lanka.

The recent funding will expand on pre-existing projects already started by USAID for providing access to clean water in Sri Lanka’s areas predisposed to droughts and floods. These programs support national and regional policies that minimize the effects of these natural disasters while providing infrastructures such as piped water and rainwater harvesting tanks. The newer technology will be geared specifically to families and hospitals affected chronic kidney diseases, the prevalent water-borne disease rising in the country.

This funding is anticipated to grant access to clean water to 100,000 people. Should this program reach its intended goal, Sri Lanka may just see its 2020 dream become a reality.

Brenna Yowell

Photo: Flickr

Education system in Sri Lanka
With a literacy rate of 92.3% and a continuing increase in primary school enrolment, the education system in Sri Lanka is constantly evolving and improving. Considering its history, a visible improvement is a high achievement, and will hopefully be maintained in the future.

Currently, there are 10,390 government schools in Sri Lanka. A curriculum set by the government is taught in Sinhalese, with English set as a second language. Education in Sri Lanka is free from primary through university level, but is only compulsory for those between the ages of 5 and 14. Facilities within the country are all state-funded and free materials are given to each child throughout their education.

Today, the education system of Sri Lanka faces many challenges as its weaknesses overpower its strengths. With a high literacy rate, it is easy to get a clouded judgment of the level of education. Overall, the quality of education is poor, with a mismatched curriculum of two different systems of private and public schools, and a substantial lack of training for teachers.

Added pressures of inefficient administration and limited government expenditure lead to difficulties in aiding children into education. Despite the compulsory requirement for 5 to 14-year-olds, only 92.2% are in full-time education, and attendance to lessons are very poor. The main reason is many children do not have a birth certificate, which means that they are technically not allowed an access to education within the country. Other reasons for poor attendance includes lack of interest or poor household backgrounds, where children are required to help their families as an alternative to education.

The Free Education Policy of 1947 enabled children to have an easier opportunity accessing education. The government spent four percent of its GDP on education, leading to mass improvements in facilities, and the level of education children receive. This was a major break-through in Sri Lanka but following weak economic conditions in the late 1960s, the government was unable to continue spending this amount of money. In 1970, the allocation for education dropped to three percent and then to less than two percent in 1977 following the introduction of Structural Adjustment policies. The quality of education deteriorated comparatively as a consequence.

Since these hard times, education reforms have been set in order to change the system and modernize it. The General Education Project-2, established in 1998, provided students with textbooks, changed the curriculum to make it more relevant and helped to develop school libraries.

While these projects and reforms have aided Sri Lanka in improving the level of education available to schoolchildren, it is still not as good as it could be. In order for education in Sri Lanka to improve, much higher levels of training need to be accessible to teachers, and schemes need to be put in place so that children who have difficulty accessing education can have equal opportunities.

Georgia Boyle

Photo: Flickr

Growth and Job Creation in Sri Lanka
As of July 29, 2016, the World Bank has approved a $100 million credit from the International Development Association to support growth and job creation in Sri Lanka.

Francoise Culottes, the World Bank Country Director for Sri Lanka and the Maldives, stated, “The breadth and depth of the actions implemented signal the comprehensive approach and commitment of the government to tackle difficult reforms aimed at making growth sustainable and creating jobs.”

Despite a 30-year civil war that ended in 2009, the country has risen to the occasion and continued to work towards cultivating growth in the economy.

Currently, the country is described as a lower middle-income country that has become more urbanized with time. Extreme poverty remains low, as the poverty rate only decreased by half a point, from 2.4 to 1.9, between the years of 2009 and 2013. The economy transformed from being primarily rural-based to an urbanized sector that provides services.

The new government, in place since 2015, declared numerous times that it has plans to make the economy more included in the global economy. Growth and job creation in Sri Lanka hinges on the government’s desire to generate one million jobs, develop rural markets, increase income and create a strong middle class.

The Development Policy Financing (DPF) is defined as an IDA credit or grant that “provides support to governments or a political subdivision for a program of policy and institutional actions to help achieve sustainable shared growth and poverty reduction.”

The DPF’s plans are based on three distinct pillars. The first pillar will support the Government of Sri Lanka’s plan to enhance the competitiveness of the private sector and help the country’s ability to overcome obstacles within the trading industry. The second pillar wishes to establish a strong legal framework, encouraging transparency as a means to improve the business environment. The third and final pillar is an act in order to support fiscal sustainability and fix debt management.

The operations guaranteed in the DPF provide funding to the Sri Lankan government after policy packages have been completed. Although various Sri Lankan ministries and groups, such as the Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs and the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, are in charge of overall implementation, the World Bank is there to support the reform methods when needed.

If the country continues to be supported by its government and focused on the tasks at hand to continue growing the economy, there should not be many problems. The Government of Sri Lanka must stay committed to its goal of economic growth as the country begins to face new challenges as it evolves into a middle-income country.

There is great promise for the country, though. With seven years of peace, and growth exceeding 6 percent, there should not be a lot of trouble for Sri Lanka, especially with the World Bank on its side.

Ashley Morefield

Photo: Flickr

Sustainable FutureThe World Bank signed an agreement with the government of Sri Lanka to provide $45 million in credit to help protect the country’s ecosystems and natural resources, creating a sustainable future. Officially solidified on Sept. 5, the partnership will assist in the improvement, protection and fostering of a multitude of areas throughout Sri Lanka, ranging from quality of life to natural ecosystems.

“Sri Lanka is blessed with a rich endowment of ecosystems. Striking a fair balance between economy and ecology is crucial, not only for the preservation of the ecosystem but also for helping people emerge from poverty,” said Idah Pswarayi-Riddihough, World Bank Country Director for Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

The project, known as the Ecosystem Conservation and Management Project (ESCAMP), strives to monitor the management of natural ecosystems and sustainable usage of its natural resources in an attempt to directly develop negatively affected neighboring communities.

Working with a multitude of associations and government programs, including the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) and the Forest Department (FD), the collaboration is intended to ensure the management of environmental resources and the promotion of a sustainable future.

One such aspect of the project is the improvement of the country’s forests. Although natural forests occupy an estimated 30% of the total land area in Sri Lanka, and approximately 14% of the country’s land area is under legal protection, damage to natural ecosystems is still prevalent.

Devastating forest degradation of dry zone forests and biodiversity loss has led to the inability for natural ecosystems to produce and provide essential benefits. This agreement hopes to halt these harmful actions.

Furthermore, ESCAMP is determined to emphasize the importance and development of social inclusion, something that is vital to the eradication of poverty. “Managing this natural heritage is the responsibility of all Sri Lankans,” said Pswarayi-Riddihough.

In addition to this collaboration, a number of other equally promising initiatives have recently been enacted to improve the quality of life and the environment in Sri Lanka. One of these plans is the Metro Colombo Urban Development Project, which is attempting to improve the city’s flood resilience and quality of life through the development of an integrated flood management system. Approximately 232,000 inhabitants of Colombo will have greater flood protection as a result. Simultaneously, the Strategic Cities Development Project aims to support and strengthen cycling lanes and spaces for riders during the country’s urbanization process.

The culmination of projects such as ESCAMP and its intended goals is transforming how the world looks at, thinks and characterizes Sri Lanka. Overall, Sri Lanka appears to be improving tremendously as it is preparing a more reliable and sustainable future.

Jordan J. Phelan
Photo: Flickr