About two thousand years ago, the country built one of the world’s first irrigation system to control its water supply.
This feat of engineering, which boasted hundreds of kilometers of channels, tanks, and innovative valve pits, helped the great kingdoms of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa flourish into sophisticated societies and protect their people against hunger.
Today, building resilience to natural disasters and other shocks is more critical than ever.
Sri Lanka is no exception. The country ranked fourth most vulnerable to climate change in 2016.
Further to that, a recent World Bank report indicates that
The losses caused by significant shocks like natural disasters have long-lasting consequences.
Children, especially, can suffer permanent damages if they are not educated or fed correctly in their critical early years.
And the loss of assets, livestock, and crops can severely hurt small business owners and farmers and further discourage them from investing.
And while some people gradually restore their standards of living, some never fully recover and get stuck in poverty.
But the poor aren’t the only ones who need to worry about shocks.
Our analysis of the 2016 Household Income and Expenditure Survey reveals that a 20 percent sudden decrease in household welfare—or consumption shock—would more than double the poverty rate: almost 1 in 10 Sri Lankans would be poor.
If the shock triggered a 50 percent decrease in consumption, one in three Sri Lankan families would fall into poverty.
To its credit, the Sri Lankan government already has a well-established disaster management system.
But social protection programs – such as cash transfers, social insurance, and care services—must also play a role in the aftermath of disasters to prevent more people from becoming poor.
To achieve that,
This is currently not the case in Sri Lanka, as programs have fixed budgets and rules that prevent them from increasing benefit amounts or enrolling additional households.
Generally, social protection programs provide a regular amount of money or other kinds of support for the poorest. After a disaster, some may need extra assistance.
Adaptive social protection programs can provide a top-up grant to these people. But some who are not beneficiaries may also need temporary support until they recover.
Program rules and budgets need to be more flexible, to allow new beneficiaries to enroll as soon as their welfare falls below a given level.
And the country needs a social registry to decide who needs assistance the most using objective and transparent criteria.
Social registries are standard in many countries and aim to make social protection programs fairer and more effective in reaching the poorest and lifting them out of poverty.