In the past, Sri Lanka has shown great effort in reducing poverty. In 2006, 15.2% of the population was below or equivalent to the World Bank’s national poverty line, which decreased to 4.1% a decade later in 2016, showing a steady recovery. However, the poverty line rapidly increased to 14.3% in 2019, even before COVID-19 struck. Even though there has been a positive report of recovery for Sri Lanka in the past, there remains a disproportionate living standard across the entirety of the island and there is an urgent need for poverty eradication in Sri Lanka.
More recently, COVID-19 has significantly affected the country’s development as it now faces a major political and economic crisis that has put its citizens in need of substantial aid. As of June 2022, UNICEF reported that 2,263,227 children are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance, partially due to the inability to provide education, as well as sufficient nutrition and sanitation. The pandemic has worsened the livelihoods of 73% of families, according to a UNICEF telephone survey, forcing families to lower the priority of education and health for their children to, instead, desperately source ways of income for necessities. Sri Lanka is now included in the top 10 countries with the most malnourished children. Furthermore, the rapidly increasing fuel cost has also prevented the country from providing essential and efficient services, such as emergency health care for children.
Poverty Eradication Efforts in Sri Lanka
According to the World Bank, 45.5% of Sri Lanka is agricultural land, so finding ways to increase agricultural productivity is a prerequisite for further economic growth. In 2021, the World Bank data showed that more than 30% of Sri Lanka’s population worked in the agricultural sector and that it makes up 7.4% of its national GDP. Sri Lanka has a lot of potential in the agricultural industry, due to its fertile land, however, productivity is lacking. In the spring of 2021, Sri Lanka’s former President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, enforced a ban on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, with the intention of the country moving to organic farming methods.
However, his efforts proved a failure as domestic rice production fell by 20% in six months, causing significant damage to the Sri Lankan economy as a result and leading to protests. To fulfill its farming potential, Sri Lanka must diversify its farming; moving away from paddy farming (usually associated with less profitable farmers), to focusing on an export-oriented crop mix that can increase earnings, as well as adopting a mechanized method of farming. Investing in updated technology, that is more mindful of climate change, will create an influx of efficiency and productivity that will greatly benefit the agricultural industry and the entire nation.
Encouraging Non-Farming Jobs in Sri Lanka
Funding children’s education in Sri Lanka is crucial, as encouraging non-farming jobs and breaking the restricted access to higher-earning jobs will increase employment opportunities and motivation for children to pursue education and increase overall living standards. A 2022 assessment by Save the Children, showed that 50% of families were struggling to support their child’s education, resulting in dropouts and many absences from school. The rising costs and shortages of fuel are other factors for children not attending school due to their inability to get there. In 2022, UNICEF and the Ministry for Education are tackling the lack of teaching supplies for up to 224,000 children. They are distributing books and paper across provinces in the country.
Diversified Employment and the Tourism Industry in Sri Lanka
Access to critical services and general transport declined in the Western Province, an example of the disproportionate spread of poverty across the country. Expanding and improving the spatial distribution will create more opportunities for more diversified employment, such as those in business, agriculture and tourism. Strengthening inclusion and encouraging people to seek work out in rural areas where poverty is at its highest, can be particularly effective due to the exposure of new industries, such as tourism.
In 2019, the tourism industry supplied more than 400,00 jobs, approximately 205,000 more jobs than in 2012, according to the World Bank report. Other non-farming jobs, such as construction and trade-related activities, accounted for more than 10% of non-farming jobs employment in 2021 individually. However, to expand work in this area, education is the primary factor in its success, as people with higher levels of education are more likely to work in skilled non-farming sectors.
Charitable organizations and neighboring countries have donated millions to improve education, health, emergency aid and other vital services. UNICEF has estimated that $25,300,000 in funding is necessary for urgent short-term solutions in sanitation, social protection and social welfare. In 2022, UNICEF stated its aim to give 1.2 million people primary health care in their supported facilities, as well as provide 665,690 children with educational services.
There is an urgent need to take action to, once again, improve the living standards and general well-being of the people in Sri Lanka. There is the hope of replicating a similar swift recovery as before the pandemic’s implication, but funding is key to making this happen. Investing in its agricultural land to give higher productivity, funding and encouraging higher education, giving more access to transport across the country and creating employment opportunities for non-farming jobs are all beneficial for poverty eradication in Sri Lanka.
– Phoebe Taylor