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Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka at 70: Looking back and forward

Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough's picture
A view from the Independence day parade.At 70, Sri Lanka has accomplished a lot in its seven decades as an independent nation.
A view from the 2018 Independence Day parade. At 70, Sri Lanka has accomplished a lot in its seven decades as an independent nation. Credit: World Bank

Like many Sri Lankans across the country, I joined Sri Lanka’s 70th Independence Day festivities earlier this month. This was undoubtedly a joyful moment, and proof of the country’s dynamism and stability. At 70, Sri Lanka has accomplished a lot in its seven decades as an independent nation.
 
The country’s social indicators, a measure of the well-being of individuals and communities, rank among the highest in South Asia and compare favorably with those in middle-income countries. In the last half-century, better healthcare for mothers and their children has reduced maternal and infant mortality to very low levels.
 
Sri Lanka’s achievements in education have also been impressive. Close to 95 percent of children now complete primary school with an equal proportion of girls and boys enrolled in primary education and a slightly higher number of girls than boys in secondary education.
 
The World Bank has been supporting Sri Lanka’s development for more than six decades. In 1954, our first project, Aberdeen-Laxapana Power Project, which financed the construction of a dam, a power station, and transmissions lines, was instrumental in helping the young nation meet its growing energy demands, boost its trade and develop light industries in Colombo, and provide much-needed power to tea factories and rubber plantations. In post-colonial Sri Lanka, this extensive electrical transmission and distribution project aimed to serve new and existing markets and improve a still fragile national economy.
 
Fast forward a few decades and Sri Lanka in 2018 is a far more prosperous and sophisticated country than it was in 1954 and, in many ways, has been a development success story. Yet, the island nation still faces some critical challenges as it strives to transition to another stage of its development and become a competitive upper middle-income country.
 
Notably, the current overreliance on the public-sector as the main engine for growth and investment, from infrastructure to healthcare, is reaching its limits.  With one of the world’s lowest tax to gross domestic product (GDP) ratios -- 12% in 2016, down from 24% in 1978 —Sri Lanka’s public sector is now facing serious budget constraints and the country needs to look for additional sources of finance to boost and sustain its growth.
 
As outlined in its Vision 2025, the current government has kickstarted an ambitious reform agenda to help the country move from a public investment to a more private investment growth model to enhance competitiveness and lift all Sri Lankans’ standards of living.
 
Now is the time to steer this vision into action. This is urgent as Sri Lanka is one of the world’s most protectionist countries and one of the hardest to start and run a business. As it happens, private foreign investment is much lower than in comparable economies and trade as a proportion of GDP has decreased from 88% in 2000 to 50% in 2016. Reversing this downward trend is critical for Sri Lanka to meet its development aspirations and overcome the risk of falling into a permanent “middle-income trap.”

Colombo: Beyond concrete and asphalt

Darshani De Silva's picture
To ensure their city remains sustainable, Colombo’s citizens need to co-exist and build harmonious relationships with natural ecosystems and the biodiversity that thrives in them
To ensure their city remains sustainable, Colombo’s citizens need to co-exist and build harmonious relationships with natural ecosystems and the biodiversity that thrives in them

Protecting nature in Sri Lanka’s capital for resilience and sustainability

The world is urbanizing at a very fast pace – but it seems like Sri Lanka is an exception.

In 2014, the island was listed as one of the least urbanized countries in the World Urbanization Prospects (WUP),  with less than 20 percent of the population in urban areas. By 2050, WUP projected that number would rise to only 30 percent.
 
Does this mean we still have to worry about the country’s urbanization? The short answer is yes.

This is, after all, an island nation with one of the highest population densities, complex and evolving social systems and intricate ecosystems.

Meanwhile, urbanization, even at relatively slower pace, is still changing migration patterns, altering the way urban populations consume resources, and impacting the affordability of land and other assets.

These, in turn, are increasing the demand for resources. Growing inequality can be seen as a result of the displacement of less affluent communities, while the loss of important ecosystems has negatively affected resilience and sustainability.

Protecting wetlands: Lessons from Sri Lanka and Maldives

Mokshana Wijeyeratne's picture
Sri Lanka and Maldives are home to rich wetlands that are habitats for a variety of fauna and flora but also benefit the ecosystem
Sri Lanka and Maldives are home to rich wetlands with a variety of fauna and flora that benefit the ecosystem.


Sri Lanka and Maldives share much more than the tag of tourism hot spots, beautiful beaches, and similar cultural traits. Both island nations have a range of unique environments that are rich in biodiversity and serve a myriad of ecosystems functions.

Both countries are home to rich wetlands with a variety of fauna and flora that benefit the ecosystem, including flood protection, water purification, and natural air conditioning and provide food and support to local communities.

Sri Lanka has actively been working to ensure these essential ecosystems are protected. The Maldives has too commenced such great work. This work has produced a wealth of knowledge and innovations on how to manage and conserve wetlands. 

Managing wetlands in Sri Lanka and Maldives

The wetland management and land use planning effort undertaken in Colombo under the World Bank-financed Metro Colombo Urban Development (MCUDP) project showcases resilience in urban land use planning and highlights how a city can become more livable by intermingling green spaces to its urban fabric. All this, while protecting wetlands and reaping the benefits of their natural ecosystem functions.

The MCUDP used robust strategies and sustainable economic models, such as wetland parks, to help save urban wetlands from threats such as encroachment and clearing. Through the Climate Change Adaptation Project (CCAP), funded by the European Union and the Government of Australia, Maldives has also taken steps to manage threats to its largest wetlands.

While the approaches to wetland management in both countries have been different there are many key lessons that can be shared.

The outlook for growth in South Asia in five charts: Robust prospects

Temel Taskin's picture
South Asia’s growth prospects appear robust, with household consumption expected to remain strong, exports expected to recover, and investment projected to revive with the support of policy reforms and infrastructure improvements.

Growth to pick up in region

Growth in the region was an estimated 6.5 percent in 2017. It is forecast to pick up to 6.9 percent in 2018 and stabilize around 7 percent over the medium term. The forecast assumes strengthening external demand as the recovery firms in advanced economies, and supportive global financing conditions. Monetary policy is expected to remain accommodative as modest fiscal consolidation proceeds in some countries.

Growth
Sources: Haver Analytics, World Bank.
Note: Shaded area indicates forecasts.

What does risk management have to do with Sri Lankan families?

Ralph van Doorn's picture
While the number of Sri Lankans living under the poverty line has decreased tremendously, many still live right above it and can fall back into extreme poverty if they experience a shock such as a natural disaster. Photo Credit: Lakshman Nadaraja 


Imagine there is a small fire in your house: someone forgot to put out a cigarette stub and accidentally set your rubbish bin on fire. You will need just one bucket of water to put it out.
 
But up the ante, and it is no longer possible for an individual to handle it. For instance, if your entire house was on fire, you would need to call your local fire station for help.
 
Now, go up one more level. You live in a thickly wooded part of a district like Badulla, and a forest fire covering hundreds of acres is threatening homes and businesses—then it would take the resources of the country, and maybe even aid and support from international allies, to battle the fire and help people recover.
 
I am telling you this story to illustrate how there are levels of risks—and responses—to consider when discussing a subject like integrated risk management.
 
As part of our work on the recently released Sri Lanka Development Update (SLDU) we considered the risks and opportunities facing Sri Lanka, beginning from the smallest unit of the household and building up to the country, as represented by the public sector.
 
There’s been a lot of talk about the macro-economy and national level reforms and policy initiatives. However, in this blog I wanted to focus on your families. What does integrated risk management mean for households?
 
The poorest Sri Lankan families are vulnerable to shocks

How to manage urban expansion in mega-metropolitan areas?

Philip E. Karp's picture
 


As the world becomes increasingly urbanized, the number of megacities is growing rapidly.

Today there are 37 cities worldwide with populations of greater than 10 million, and 84 with populations greater than five million. More than three quarters of these cities are in developing countries. Together with their surrounding metropolitan areas, these cities produce a sizable portion of the world’s wealth and attract a large share of global talent.

These megacities face a series of common challenges associated with managing urban expansion, density, and livability—in a manner that takes advantage of the benefits of productive agglomerations, while mitigating the disadvantages of such high degrees of congestion and urban density.

Moreover, like other metropolitan areas, megacities face challenges of effectively coordinated planning, infrastructure development, and service delivery across multiple jurisdictions. Indeed, the New Urban Agenda issued at the Habitat III conference in 2016 identified metropolitan planning and management as one of the most critical needs to ensure sustainable urbanization.

The quest for a well-resourced holiday meal

Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough's picture



Holidays for me have always been about family and food. A time to relax, catch-up with loved ones and eat good food.  When it’s our turn to cook, my husband and I take time to plan the menu. A central part of our meals are vegetables and fresh fruits but we have also learnt over the years that a good meal needs fresh ingredients, all procured as close to the preparation of the meal as possible. 
 
Sri Lanka has not disappointed in its array of fruits and vegetables. I am still discovering the names of many; some of which I will never be able to pronounce for sure. Despite that, I love eating them! 
 
Amongst my favourites are papaya, mangoes and kankun, the last for which I share a passion with my two pet turtles. But getting these vegetables and fruits from the same supplier on a constant basis is a challenge. Even common produce like onions, tomatoes, and cucumbers can be discoloured or squishy – not at all appetizing or conducive for a salad or other such type of fresh dish.
 
The price, of course, is the same whatever the quality. Fresh produce can be expensive, and regularly buying a variety of fruits and vegetables does strain the budgets of many families in Sri Lanka. Needless to say, this shouldn’t be the case in a country with such rich soils and plentiful sunshine.  
 
The question of access to fresh and healthy food goes beyond our holiday tables. According to the World Health Organisation, 1 in 5 premature deaths in Sri Lanka are due to a non-communicable disease (NCD) such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease or cancer.[1] Tobacco use, unhealthy diets, harmful use of alcohol and physical inactivity have all been identified as risk factors.

Good fences make good neighbors

Hasita Bhammar's picture
© Center for Conservation and Research, Sri Lanka
© Center for Conservation and Research, Sri Lanka

The members of the community in the Bulugolla village in Sri Lanka breathed a sigh of relief. It was the month of October and the rice harvest had gone well. The rains had been plentiful and their meddlesome neighbors (seen in picture above) were abiding by their boundaries. This has not always been the case.

As the head of the village explained, “We depend upon a rice harvest to earn our livelihood. While we culturally and traditionally have lived in harmony with elephants, we cannot survive without our paddy farms and so we have to keep the elephants out”.

Human wildlife conflict is currently one of the greatest conservation challenges. As human populations grow, wildlife habitat shrink and humans and wildlife come in contact with each other as they compete for resources. In addition, wildlife such as elephants cannot be limited to the boundaries of protected areas as many protected areas can only support a certain number of elephants. In Sri Lanka, most elephant live outside protected areas amidst paddy fields, community villages, highway railways and other development infrastructure that is intended to support the growing human population. Conflict is inevitable but failure to reduce it will result in extinction of wildlife species.   

To improve female labour force participation in Sri Lanka, first change attitudes

Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough's picture
Sri Lankan Women
Read the feature story here 
Earlier this year in Hatton, I met a group of talented, young adults who had just participated in a social innovation pilot program. They were enthusiastic and dynamic, brimming with potential. But the potential to realize that potential was going to be influenced along gender lines; the expectations and obligations to the families were the most important determinants.   
 
I heard about some of these challenges. One girl had an ailing mother at home and was responsible for her care; another struggled to study on weekends while working on weekdays, with both activities requiring long commutes. One young lady, T. Priya, who had just graduated from university with a BA, told me she was currently unemployed because she was determined to wait for the right job—which to her, meant joining the public sector. You’d be amazed at how often I have heard this from young Sri Lankans. Unfortunately, as we all know too well, there are only a limited number of these positions available. 
Getting Sri Lanka's Women to Work


This week, the World Bank published Getting to Work: Unlocking Women’s Potential in Sri Lanka’s Labor Force. The report notes that the number of women participating in Sri Lanka’s workforce is low, that women under 30 are facing high rates of unemployment and that wage disparities still exist between the sexes.  
 
Among its findings is that women like Priya, despite having high educational attainments (university level or higher), still queue for a limited number of public sector jobs which raises their rates of unemployment. Government jobs are seen as offering more flexible hours and financial security than private sector jobs.
 
Another issue is that the burden of household responsibilities and chores fall disproportionately on women. When women got married, it made it harder, not easier, for them to go to work, and this was only exacerbated when women had children.
 
For men, the situation is somewhat different. As of 2015, marriage lowered the odds of Female Labour Force Participation by 4.4 percentage points, while boosting men’s odds by 11 percentage points.  
 
But I think the roots of this problem go deeper, and start early. Young girls learn that it’s not important to be good at maths or sciences and many more pursue degrees in humanities and the arts, widely considered gender appropriate, rather than in the technical skills that are in demand in the private sector and growing industries.
 
This is only one way in which we limit our daughters.

The Legacy of Saman Kelegama

Sanjay Kathuria's picture
Saman Kelegama, a Sri Lankan economist and the Executive Director of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS Sri Lanka) died prematurely in June 2017. He was a champion of deeper South Asian cooperation.
Saman Kelegama, a Sri Lankan economist and the Executive Director of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS Sri Lanka) died prematurely in June 2017. He was a champion of deeper South Asian cooperation. Credit:  Institute of Policy Studies

I first met Saman in the early 1990s in Delhi.  Over the years, our paths diverged.  When I re-engaged on South Asia, I ran into Saman again. We re-connected instantly, despite the long intervening period.  This was easy to do with Saman—soft-spoken, affable, a gentleman to the core.  He bore his considerable knowledge lightly.  

Despite his premature passing away in June 2017, he left a rich and varied legacy behind him. I will confine myself to discussing his insights on regional cooperation in South Asia, based on his public writings and my interactions with him.

Saman was a champion of deeper economic linkages within South Asia. He was also pragmatic. 

Along with a few other regional champions, Saman, as the head of the Institute of Policy Studies in Colombo, helped to kick-start the “South Asian Economic Summit”, or SAES, in Colombo in 2008, to provide a high-profile forum for dialogue on topical issues, especially South Asian regional integration. It is remarkable that the SAES has endured, without any gap. The fact that the policy and academic fraternity meet with unfailing regularity, despite on-and-off political tensions in the region, is testimony to its value.

Saman repeatedly stressed that Sri Lanka has been able to reap benefits from the India-Sri Lanka FTA (ISFTA), contrary to the general belief. His arguments were powerful: the import-export ratio for Sri Lanka improved from 10.3 in 2000 (the start of the ISFTA) to 6.6 in 2015; about 70 percent of Sri Lanka’s exports to India get duty-free access under the FTA, but less than 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s imports from India come under the FTA (since India provided “special and differential treatment” to Sri Lanka).


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