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 percent in 2002 to 6.1 percent in 2012. However, large pockets of poverty remain which begs the question: why is Sri Lanka Poor?
- Previous Conflict
Sri Lanka has been torn by civil war since 1983. The war resulted from ethnic tensions between the Buddhist Sinhalese majority and 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 percent of individuals in 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.
- Education Disparities
The regional disparities in Sri Lanka are partially due to variations in productive earnings opportunities. In 2012/13, more than 85 percent of Sri Lanka’s poor lived and worked in the rural sector of the economy. Among the bottom 40 percent, 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 percent of the country’s GDP and was around 7.3 percent 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.
- 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 flood waters, 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 percent 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