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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.

Reviving Degraded Wetlands in India’s North Bihar

Pyush Dogra's picture

Kanwar Jheel is the largest in a series of 18 wetlands spread across the Ganges flood plains in India’s north Bihar. For generations, these wetlands have been the mainstay for this densely populated region, enabling families to farm the fertile soil and fish in nutrient-rich waters.

kanwar jheel, bihar

During the monsoon, when the River Burhi Gandak - a Ganges tributary - overflows its banks, the wetlands absorb the runoff, protecting this extremely flood-prone region. When the rains are over, the water shrinks to one tenth the size, exposing marshes and grasslands that create a mosaic of habitats for a wide variety of flora and fauna.

In winter, over 60 species of duck and waterfowl visit these wetlands on their annual migration routes along the Central Asian Flyway.

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.

Incentives for cleaner cities in Nepal

Charis Lypiridis's picture
The "orange city" of Dhankuta, Nepal. Photo: World Bank
The "orange city" of Dhankuta, Nepal. Photo: World Bank

Cities across Nepal—and in the developing world—produce more waste than ever before, due to a spike in population and a surge in new economic activity and urbanization. Properly disposing and managing solid waste has thus become urgent for city municipalities.

Although collecting, storing, and recycling solid waste can represent up to 50 percent of a municipality’s annual budget, many local governments don’t collect enough revenue from waste management services to cover these costs.

As a result, landscapes and public spaces in Nepal’s urban centers are deteriorating. Less than half of the 700,000 tons of waste generated in Nepal’s cities each year is collected. Most waste is dumped without any regulation or oversight and several municipalities do not have a designated disposal site, leading to haphazard disposal of waste—often next to a river—further aggrevating the problem.

With urbanization rising, the costs of inaction are piling up and compromising people’s health and the environment. In most cases, the poor suffer the most from the resulting negative economic, environmental, and human health impacts.

Rebuilding houses and livelihoods in post-earthquake Nepal

Mio Takada's picture
When the 2015 earthquake hit Nepal, Fulmati Mijar lost her home and livelihood. Now, she has turned her life around, learned carpentry and quake-resistant techniques, and started a business
When the 2015 earthquake hit Nepal, Fulmati Mijar lost her home and livelihood. Now, she has turned her life around, learned carpentry and quake-resistant techniques, and started a business. Credit: World Bank.

Fulmati Mijar, a mother of three living in Nuwakot district in Nepal, used to earn her living from daily wage labor along with her husband.
On April 25, 2015, their lives took a turn for the worse when a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal, killing 8,790 people and affecting 8 million more—or nearly a third of the country’s population.
The catastrophe destroyed Fulmati’s house and made her family more vulnerable.
Yet, it did not dent her resolve.
When housing reconstruction started through the Earthquake Housing Reconstruction Project (EHRP), Fulmari joined her village’s Community Organization (CO), supported by the Poverty Alleviation Fund (PAF) and learned carpentry and earthquake-resistant techniques for housing reconstruction.
She initially received a NPR18,000 ($176) loan to invest in a small furniture enterprise. With the funds, her family started making windows, doors, and kitchen racks, which were in high demand. After repaying the loan, she received another loan to upgrade their furniture enterprise, where today she and her family make their living.
At the time of the 2015 earthquake, full recovery was estimated to cost $8.2 billion, with the housing recovery component amounting to $3.8 billion. The World Bank immediately pledged $500 million to support the emergency response. During the reconstruction phase, the most urgent—and largest—need was to rebuild nearly 750,000 houses.
More than two years since the earthquake, restoring lost or affected livelihoods has become more important.

Bangladesh is thinking big by thinking blue

Pawan Patil's picture

Maintaining and restoring ocean ecosystems – or ‘ocean health’ – is synonymous with growing ‘ocean wealth,’ according to a soon-to-be published report by the World Bank and European Union. With rapid population growth, limited land and fewer terrestrial resources to house, feed and provide citizens with their energy needs, coastal nations across South Asia are looking seaward. In doing so, countries are clueing in on the fact that sustainably managing and developing ocean spaces is critical to a nation’s economic advancement.

Thinking Blue - thinking how best to sustainably tap ocean spaces as new sources of sustainable growth and transition to a blue economy - is new, although South Asian nations have used the sea for food and trade for centuries. Five years ago, few had an inkling of the emerging importance of the term 'blue economy.'

By late 2017, at the Second International Blue Economy Dialogue hosted by the Government of Bangladesh in Dhaka, interest in what the blue economy is and why it matters is at an all-time high and rising. Perhaps this not surprising. 

Protecting forests in India from disastrous fires

Siddhanta Das's picture

India’s commitment to sustainable development is clearly demonstrated through its innovative and progressive forest policies. The Government’s policy of incentivising state governments to improve their forest cover is evident in the 14th Finance Commission’s allocation of 7.5% of total revenues on the basis of the state’s forest cover. This makes India the implementer of the world’s largest Payment for Environmental Services scheme.

Over the last few years, the forest and tree cover in the country has been steadily increasing, and at present, it stands at 24.16% of the total geographic area. This affirms that sustainable forest management and long-term thinking about natural assets are foundations for strong and sustained growth. This is not to say that there are no challenges. Forest fires are a leading cause of forest degradation in India, and the current pattern of widespread and frequent fires could make it more difficult for India to meet its long-term goal of bringing 33% of its geographical area under forest & tree cover and to achieve its international commitment to create additional carbon sinks of 2.5 billion to 3 billion tons worth of CO2 equivalent by 2030.

Recognizing the challenge of forest fires in India, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and the World Bank co-organized an international workshop on Forest Fire Prevention and Management from November 1 to 3, 2017. The discussion benefitted from the perspectives of government officials from India, researchers, experts and representatives from Australia, Belarus, Canada, Mexico, Nepal, the United States of America, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. This workshop served as an opportunity for knowledge exchange to help India devise a robust strategy to tackle the challenge of forest fires. It was also an opportunity for Indian states to share good practices with each other, and with countries from around the world, and to learn from other countries.

Forest fires: need for rethinking management strategies

Dr. H. S. Suresh's picture

Earth’s landscape has been subjected to both natural and anthropogenic fires for millions of years.

Natural, lightning-caused fires are known to have occurred in geological time continuously at least since the late Silurian epoch, 400 million years ago, and have shaped the evolution of plant communities.

Hominids have used controlled fire as a tool to transform the landscape since about 700,000 years ago. These hominids were Homo erectus, ancestors of modern humans. Paleofire scientists, biogeographers and anthropologists all agree that hominid use of fire for various purposes has extensively transformed the vegetation of Earth over this period.

Dry season ground fire in Mudumalai.  Photo Credit: Dr. H. S. Suresh

The nature of Earth’s modern-day biomes would be substantially different if there had been no fires at all. William Bond and colleagues (2005) used a Dynamic Global Vegetation Model to simulate the area under closed forest with and without fire. They estimated that in the absence of fire, the area of closed forest would double from the present 27% to 56% of present vegetated area, with corresponding increase in biomass and carbon stocks. This would be at the expense of C4 grasslands and certain types of shrub-land in cooler climates.

Mexico’s National Forest Fire Management Program

Alfredo Nolasco Morales's picture

On November 1-3, India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) and the World Bank organized a workshop in Delhi to discuss forest fire prevention and management.  The workshop brought together fire experts and practitioners from eight countries along with Indian government officials from the ministry and the state forest departments, as well as representatives from academia and civil society.  One of the participating countries, Mexico, has recently transformed its national policy on forest fires. Alfredo Nolasco Morales, Wildland Fire Protection Manager at Mexico’s National Forestry Commission (CONAFOR) shared his insights on what this transformation has meant for Mexico, how it was achieved, and how it may serve as an inspiration for India as the Indian government prepares a new national action plan for forest fires.
Mexico’s forest fire program has operated for more than 70 years. On average, 7,500 fires occur each year, affecting 300,000 hectares of pasture, scrubland, forest, and regrowth. Recently, however, the country has experienced some especially bad years, including in 2017, when fires burned 715,714 hectares and killed 12 people. Extreme climatic conditions and the accumulation of fuels such as dry leaves, twigs, grasses, dead trees, and fallen timber have contributed to especially severe fire seasons.

Until 2012, Mexico’s national forest fire program focused on the complete suppression of fires by contracting helicopters to douse the flames. State forest fire programs were weak and there was little institutional coordination.