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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Millenium Development Goals : The poverty gauntlet

Sunday Obsever: 22/05/2005" by Ranga Jayasuriya

Sri Lanka's achievements in reducing non-income poverty, evident in the improved statistics of high literacy rates, enrolment at primary education and low maternity and infant death rates are set against its slow pace in poverty alleviation, which if unaddressed would threaten the country's social gains, cautions a Report measuring the country's progress in meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDG).

Sri Lanka's first ever Millennium Development Goals Report released at the donor meeting in Kandy early this week estimates nearly 23 per cent of the population live below the national poverty line.

"Although Sri Lanka has achieved considerable success in the improvement of non-income poverty, it is less clear on the success with regard to reducing income poverty especially when contrasted with that of East Asian countries..." says the report.

There are about five million people living in poverty in Sri Lanka, perhaps more, as there are no exact figures of the population in eight districts in the North East.

The regional disparities in the MDG achievement within the country is a challenge, according to the report which estimates that a greater part of the country's wealth and economic activity is located in the Western Province.

Overall, poverty in Sri Lanka has declined since independence, especially from 1953 to 1985, notes the report, but pointing out that the declining trend slowed during the early 1990s.

"From 1990-91 to 2002 the income of the poorest 20 per cent has increased by about 36 per cent and the income of the poorest 40 per cent has increased by 33 per cent, both significantly low compared to the growth in income of the richest 20 per cent, which was increased by 49 per cent,"it says.

Failure to reduce unemployment and under-employment and to increase the income for unskilled and semi-skilled workers, poorly targeted consumer subsidies and the accelerated inflation are among the reasons for the relative stagnation in the income of the low income groups.

Poverty is concentrated in rural areas and performance in health, education, access to water and sanitation varies among the districts.

The Western and Southern province, which are the most urbanised have the lowest poverty levels, whereas the Uva and North Western, the least urbanised, have the highest poverty levels.

Poverty in Sri Lanka is mainly concentrated in eight districts in the North and East, six districts in the South, including several plantation districts and in a few pockets.

"...Successful poverty reduction must address specific poverty profiles in those areas by either creating productive jobs or enabling people from those areas to move to productive jobs elsewhere".

"The centre piece of this strategy is the massive infrastructure development in neglected areas as the basis for development of agriculture, industry,tourism and other activities to provide employment," says the report which underlines the need for the poor to be involved in rural infrastructure development projects.

The report sounds a note of caution at the rising unemployment figures,especially among the nation's 3.1 million young adults between the ages of 15 and 27 years.

"Given Sri Lanka's experience in youth unrest during 1970-71, 1988-89 and to some extent in the North and East conflict, it is important to take into account the growing unemployment and under-employment among youth, most of whom are educated and are in rural areas," cautions the report.

Moving to the country's performance in improving its non-income poverty, the report commends the net enrolment ratio and retention rate of primary education and literary rates, all above 95 per cent.

The net enrolment ratio in primary education in 2003 was 98.35 per cent, which is an increase from 95.2 per cent in 1990. Youth literacy rates increased from 92.7 per cent in 1990 to 95.6 per cent in 2001. However, there are still a percentage of children from marginalised groups who are out of the school system.

" The challenge remains in ensuring that these students are brought into the system", it says.

As for gender equality, the report says Sri Lankan women have a comparatively better status than women in many other developing countries, but have yet to achieve gender equality and empowerment in consonance with international norms.

It states free education and related incentives have promoted gender equality in the access to education.

"Sri Lanka has still to achieve the universal primary education, but has virtually achieved the gender equality in primary education,"says the report.

It however notes that contrast to the education and health sector, labour market shows wider gender inequalities.

The confluence of positive social policies,slow economic growth, consequent persistent poverty among segments of the population, armed conflict and engendered social norms have contributed to the uneven development that impinges on the quality of life of women, according to the report.

Infant mortality and maternity mortality rates have shown a declining trend over the years.

Infant mortality in the country in 2002 was only 17 per 100,000 live births while the under five mortality was 19 per 1,000 live births, the lowest rates in the WHO South East Asian region.

"The challenging task ahead is to reduce prenatal and neonatal mortality, which are generally linked to the mother's health and nutrition status during pregnancy," says the report.

It describes the country's achievements in the improvement of its other social indicators - other than income poverty- as an example of a "support led" strategy of improving basic capabilities.

A large share of public expenditure, estimated to be around 4 per cent of the GDP has been redistributed to households over the years, in the form of free education and health services, food subsidies, food stamps and subsidised credit to improve living standards to ensure the minimum consumption levels of households perceived to be in need.

However, the report, while noting certain consumer subsidies have not resulted in a "significant favourable outcome" underlines the need of a better targeting of subsidies. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS has been low in Sri Lanka, but the report warns of a potential spread of AIDS, unless it is combatted at an early stage.

The report also underscores the fact that policies and programs should be put in place to ensure environmental sustainability. It also underlines the importance of setting up a global partnership that is supportive and contributes to the achievement of the MDG's in the local context.


Goals and targets

The Millennium Development Goals are an ambitious agenda for reducing poverty and improving lives that world leaders agreed on at the Millennium Summit in September 2000. For each goal one or more targets have been set, most for 2015, using 1990 as a benchmark:

1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

Target for 2015: Halve the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day and those who suffer from hunger.

2. Achieve universal primary education

Target for 2015: Ensure that all boys and girls complete primary school.

3. Promote gender equality and empower women

Targets for 2005 and 2015: Eliminate gender disparities in primary and secondary education preferably by 2005, and at all levels by 2015.

4. Reduce child mortality

Target for 2015: Reduce by two thirds the mortality rate among children under five.

5. Improve maternal health

Target for 2015: Reduce by three-quarters the ratio of women dying in childbirth. In the developing world, the risk of dying in childbirth is one in 48, but virtually all countries now have safe motherhood programmes.

6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

Target for 2015: Halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS and the incidence of malaria and other major diseases.

7. Ensure environmental sustainability


* Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes and reverse the loss of environmental resources.

* By 2015, reduce by half the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water.

(Source: UNDP)

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