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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. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Millennium Development Goals report released in Kandy

Daily News: 18/05/2005"

Rising poverty and unemployment, worsened by the tsunami and slow development in conflict-affected areas, threaten Sri Lanka's social sector gains, warns a report issued yesterday the Sri Lanka Development Forum.

The country's first Millennium Development Goals Report, presented to a meeting of representatives from countries and donor agencies that provide support to Sri Lanka, shows that despite huge strides made in health and education, the goal of halving poverty by 2015 is not on track.

The bold report underscores the fact that although the 26 December 2004 tsunami disaster magnified development challenges, persistent slow growth, rising unemployment and malnutrition in rural areas and the conflict districts in the North and East are long-standing issues that need to be tackled, a UNDP news release said.

"The tsunami disaster has increased the vulnerability of a large proportion of the very people whose income was to be uplifted under the Government's poverty reduction programme," says the report.

On the positive side, the country is no track in achieving many of the United Nations' millennium targets and has plans to merge the global development goals with its own blueprint for poverty alleviation.

Said Dr. P.B. Jayasundera, Secretary to the Treasury and Chairman of the National Council for Economic Development: "The government has taken necessary action to re-align the country's development plans with the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals). "The medium-term Poverty Reduction and Growth Strategy will navigate the achievement of the MDGs. This will be supported by accelerated policy reforms, budget restructuring and international support".

Noted Miguel Bermeo, the Resident Co-ordinator/Humanitarian Co-ordinator for the United Nations in Sri Lanka: "Sri Lanka has long been at the forefront of human development among developing countries. Access to health and education is widespread and the results have been impressive,".

"But the tsunami disaster and the two-decade internal conflict have raised tremendous challenges," he said.

The Millennium Development Goals Report, a survey of the country's progress in meeting the world's targets for dramatically reducing extreme poverty in its many dimensions, hails Sri Lanka's decades-long success in tackling infant and maternal mortality, high literacy rates and near universal education for both girls and boys.

While the Western and Southern provinces have prospered, other areas however, have recorded significant increases in poverty levels, with over five million people - nearly one in four Sri Lankans - still living below the national poverty line.

"The Government has recognized the regional disparities in growth and development and the need for pro-poor, pro-growth initiatives," said Dr. Jayasundera.

"The supportive environment in achieving MDGs is in place. However, the challenge now lies in implementing our policies for which hard work, good partnerships and close collaboration is a pre-requisite," he observed.

A critical aspect of poverty within the country is the situation in the conflict affected areas. "Two decades of conflict have hindered Sri Lanka's economic progress," says the report. "The war has further aggravated the poverty situation and unemployment, especially in the Northern and Eastern provinces and border villages to the conflict areas."

Because of the conflict, there are no exact figures for the population in eight districts of the country and the surveys used to capture the incidence of poverty have not yet reached all areas.

It points to the under-utilization of productive land and vital infrastructure needed for economic resurgence "owing to landmine and UXO (unexploded ordnance) contamination".

"Prior to the conflict, the districts were highly productive agricultural areas. Lots more needs to be done to reduce the impact of these explosive devices on productivity levels and poverty."

According to the report's co-authors. Tilani Jayawardhana and Shihana Samad, Sri Lanka ranks 96th with an index of 0.740 among 177 countries in terms of the Human

"Our social indicators such as life expectancy, literacy and mortality rates are well above those in comparable developing countries and are on par with many developed countries. However, one in four Sri Lankans on average is poverty stricken with wide regional disparities. In addition, there are discrepancies in the provision of health and education services across districts," they said.

The report recommends a poverty reduction plan that concentrates on eight districts in the North and East and six districts in the South that would create productive jobs or enable people from those areas to move to productive means of employment.

"The centrepiece 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.

The report also sounded the alert on rising unemployment figures, especially among the nation's 3.1 million young adults between the ages of 15 and 27 years. Enrolment in primary education and literacy rates are above 95%. "The government's role has been crucial in ensuring that all children within 5-14 are in school." The challenge remains in ensuring that children of marginalized groups are brought into the system.

Furthermore, Sri Lanka's achievement in reducing maternal deaths is a "widely accepted success story," says the report. The consistent decline in maternal mortality for over five decades is attributed to a wide network of maternal services which has been integrated with childcare and a trained cadre of public health midwives. In 2002, infant mortality stood at a regional low of 17 per 1,000 births, according to the report.

The report was produced by the government's National Council for Economic Development, and supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in collaboration with the World Bank and the UN Country Team and Multilateral Group in Sri Lanka.

At a glance: Millennium Development Goals report

* Over five million Sri Lankans (about a quarter of the population) live below the national poverty line. (The national poverty line as set by the Department of Census and Statistics is: Rs. 1,423 for real food and non-food consumption per person per month).

* There is great disparity in poverty figures from urban and rural areas. Between 1990 and 2002, poverty has declined sharply in the Colombo district but has increased in the Moneragala, Badulla, Ratnapura and Kegalle districts.

* It is likely that the overall level of poverty would be higher if data from the north and east were available.

* Malnutrition is an acute problem especially among pre-school children and mothers in Sri Lanka. Some 13.5 per cent of children below the age of 5 are stunted, while 14 per cent are wasted and 29.4 per cent are underweight. One of every three women is stunted and 36 per cent is anaemic.

* Youth literacy rates increased from 92.7 per cent in 1990 to 95.6 per cent in 2001.

* Some 50,000 school aged children in the north and east are not in school. The dropout rate is 15 percent.

* Unemployment rates rose from 6.8 per cent in 1999 for males to 7.3 per cent in mid-2002 and 11.8 per cent for females in 1999 to 14.8 mid-2002.

* Female unemployment rates have been double those of men for three decades.

* In the last decade, over 40 per cent of unemployed people are from the 20 to 24 age group.

* In 2002, 54 per cent of total unemployed people either qualified in the General Certificate of Education ‘Ordinary Level’ examination or above.

* Infant mortality in 2002 was only 17 per 100,000 live births.

* The 1996 maternal mortality rate is 24 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.

* HIV prevalence between 15 to 49 year olds in 2003 was less than 0.1 per cent.

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