Protecting nature in Sri Lanka’s capital for resilience and sustainability
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 nature in Sri Lanka’s capital for resilience and sustainability
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.
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
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. Tobacco use, unhealthy diets, harmful use of alcohol and physical inactivity have all been identified as risk factors.
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.
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.
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).
But how confident are we that the available data on economic activity paints an accurate picture of a country’s performance?
Measuring Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the most standard measure of economic activity, is especially challenging in developing countries, where the informal sector is large and institutional constraints can be severe.
In addition, many countries only provide GDP measures annually and at the national level. Not surprisingly, GDP growth estimates are often met with skepticism.
New technologies offer an opportunity to strengthen economic measurement. Evening luminosity observed from satellites has been shown to be a good proxy for economic activity.
As shown in Figure 1, there is a strong correlation between nightlight intensity and GDP levels in South Asia: the higher the nightlight intensity on the horizontal axis, the stronger the economic activity on the vertical axis.
However, measuring nightlight is challenging and comes with a few caveats. Clouds, moonlight, and radiance from the sun can affect measurement accuracy, which then requires filtering and standardizing.
On the other hand, nighlight data has a lot advantages like being available in high-frequency and with a very high spatial resolution. In the latest edition of South Asia Economic Focus, we use variations in nightlight intensity to analyze economic trends and illustrate how this data can help predict GDP over time and across space.
October 17, 2017 – Today marks the 25th anniversary of the United National declaration of the International Day to End Extreme Poverty. Compared to many other countries in the world, Sri Lanka has done well in ending extreme poverty. Between 2002 and 2012, extreme poverty in Sri Lanka decreased from 8.3% to 1.9% while the national poverty level fell from 22% to 6.7% during the same period. Read the latest poverty brief and the two-part series on understanding poverty in Sri Lanka to learn more.
The big picture of poverty in Sri Lanka may be different when we zoom in on individuals and communities. In order to understand individual perspectives and opinions, this year we have opened up an opportunity for Sri Lankans to share their views on Sri Lanka’s Vision to End Poverty. We welcome your views in the form of a short blog post on why you believe #itspossible to end poverty in Sri Lanka. Below are some questions to get you thinking. You need not capture all of them, or be restricted to answering just these questions, but we are interested in hearing from you on these themes.
- Do you feel that you have more opportunities than your parents did at your age? Why or why not?
- How could more openings be created for you and your peers?
- Do you believe that the future will provide more prospects than the present?
- What are you most excited about and most discouraged by in terms of available opportunities in Sri Lanka?
- Do you think it is possible to end poverty in Sri Lanka? As individuals, can we contribute to making this goal a reality?
- How do you think the reforms listed in Vision 2025 can contribute to ending poverty in Sri Lanka?
- All participants must be registered with us through the online form available here. Follow the submission instructions detailed there.
- You will be requested to provide a short biography and profile picture which will become your profile, and accessible from the article(s) you write if selected by the panel of editors.
පසුගිය සැප්තැම්බර් මස 28 වෙනිදා ජාත්යන්තර තොරතුරු දැනගැනීමේ දිනය වශයෙන් රජය විසින් ප්රකාශයට පත් කරනු ලැබුවා. විශ්වයේම තොරතුරු ඇසුරු සැණකින් අතේ තිබෙන ජංගම දුරකථනය හරහා ලබාගත හැකි යුගයක තොරතුරු දැනගැනීමේ අයිතිය තහවුරු කරන්න වෙනම දිනයක් අවශ්ය දැයි ඔබට සිතෙන්නටත් පුළුවන්. නමුත් දිනපතා සිය භාණ්ඩ රේගුවෙන් නිදහස් කරගැනීමට පොර බදන කුඩා හෝ මධ්ය පරිමාණ වෙළඳ මහතකුගෙන් මේ ගැන විමසුවොත්, සමහර විට ඔබේ එම අදහස වෙනස් වේවි .
කොළඹ, ගාලු පාරේ, සිය කාර්යාලයේ සිට ආනයන-අපනයන වෙළඳාම පවත්වාගෙන යන චමිල් පෙරේරාට තමන්ගේ ආනයන භාණ්ඩ රේගුවෙන් නිදහස් කරගැනීමේ ක්රියාවලිය ප්රතිවාදියෙකු සමඟ පොර බැදීමකට දෙවැනි නැහැ. චමිල් වගේ බොහෝ පිරිස් තමන්ගේ වෙළඳාම් කටයුතු හරහා රටට ආදායමක් උපදවා දෙන අතරම නව රැකියා අවස්ථා උත්පාදනයටත් දායකත්වය ලබා දෙනවා. නමුත් ඉහත කී ක්රියාවලියේ දී රේගු කටයුතු ගැන හරි තොරතුරු ලබා ගැනීමට තිබෙන නොහැකියාව වගේම ක්රියාවලියේ ඇති සංකීර්ණ බව නිසා විශාල ලෙස කාලය හා මුදල් නාස්ති වීමකට ඔවුන් මුහුණ දෙනවා.
Two years ago, we started counting how many Sri Lankan agencies were involved in trade facilitation processes such as issuing permits and managing the movement of goods in and out of the country. We counted at least 22 agencies in this assessment, and today, the Department of Commerce estimates that number at least 34 agencies are involved in issuing permits or publishing regulations that affect trade.
We know trade is critical to Sri Lanka’s future and that there are strong links between trade, economic growth and poverty reduction.
However, the trading community reports a lack of transparency, confusion around rules and regulations, poor coordination between various ministries and a dearth of critical infrastructure—you can see why trade has suffered in Sri Lanka.
When the World Bank evaluates a country’s performance in critical rankings like Doing Business, the ease of trading across borders is one of the benchmarks we consider. In this, and in other lists like the Logistics Performance Index, Sri Lanka is underperforming compared with its potential. Here, the average trade transaction involves over 30 different parties with different objectives, incentives, competence and constituencies they answer to, and up to 200 data elements, many of which are repeated multiple times. This environment constrains the growth of Sri Lanka’s private sector, especially SMEs.
But now for the good news. By ratifying the World Trade Organisation Trade Facilitation Agreement, Sri Lanka has signalled its determination to intensify reform efforts.