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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. 

Friday, October 14, 2005

Millennium Development Goals: Lanka should step up efforts to address critical challenges

Daily News: 10/10/2005"

COLOMBO, Recent progress in Sri Lanka's human development indicators had led many to suggest that victory over poverty is around the corner.

A new World Bank report shows that even though performance in some key areas has been impressive, fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 will require stepping up efforts to address critical challenges.

The report "Attaining the Millennium Development Goals in Sri Lanka" finds that to meet these development targets the country needs to maintain strong growth, ensure male and female students attain better educational levels, improve health and nutrition, expand infrastructure, and pay close attention to districts currently under-served."

Five main human development MDGs relating to poverty, under-five and infant mortality, child malnutrition, school enrolment and completion and gender disparities in schooling, are examined and discussed in the report.

Bright Spots

Sri Lanka gets credit for achieving the two educational MDGs 'Universal Primary Enrolment and Completion' and 'Eliminating Gender Disparity in Primary and Secondary Education', well ahead of the target date in 1990-91. These achievements are even more noteworthy considering the fact that the country has suffered a 20 years of civil unrest.

"The report emphasizes in particular the need for accelerated pro-poor growth if better progress is to be achieved towards reducing the number of people living below the poverty line," said Peter Harrold, World Bank Country Director for Sri Lanka.

Expressing hope that this report will assist Sri Lanka to strengthen efforts to serve the poor and achieve the MDGs by 2015, he said 'the Bank looks forward to continuing the work with the Government to achieve this objective.'

Despite the achievements, Sri Lanka faces considerable challenges with substantial shortfalls in learning achievements.

"The challenge now is to ensure high quality of primary education, with special emphasis on educationally disadvantaged areas, through strategic policy development, and efficient investment in human resources," asserted Harsha Aturupane, Senior Economist, World Bank, who headed the study team and is one of the main authors for the report.

Significantly, the report finds that there is a strong linkage between female adult schooling and many of the millennium indicators. Female schooling at post-primary level is strongly associated with poverty reduction and with lower child underweight rates.

The report advocates continued investments to ensure increase in girl's secondary and tertiary enrolment in future, adding that improvements in learning levels of both boys and girls would strengthen the economic prospects and human development attainment of the country substantially.

The report also recognizes the country's efforts in bringing down its "Infant and under five mortality rates, "but here again there is cause for concern as there exists large regional disparities in the country", says Aturupane.

The study shows that living standards alone can't explain the entire variation in infant mortality. For instance, Moneragla has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the country despite being the poorest district, while Colombo has a relatively high infant mortality rate despite its affluence.

Several factors like sex and birth order; mother's schooling, mother's age at birth, mother's vaccinations, birth weight, household headship (male or female); and access to infrastructure all pay a part and contribute to the infant mortality rate.

Surprisingly, the report shows that, infant and child mortality rates were lower for households headed by males (12.1 and 14.3 per 1000 live births) than for female headed households (15.3 and 20.6 per 1000 live births).

Critical challenges

The dual challenges for the country are eradicating extreme poverty and hunger and improving Sri Lanka's poor performance in addressing child malnutrition.

Analyzing the Poverty issues, the chapter on 'Consumption poverty', examines trends and patterns and states that 23 per cent of he population lives below the official poverty line in seven of the eight provinces.

The highest level of poverty is in the estate sector, which comprises the plantations in the central highland areas, where 30 per cent of the population is poor. This is followed by the rural sector where about 25 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line.

The more profitable economic opportunities available in cities and towns bring the poverty in urban sector down to 8 per cent.

Sri Lanka's inability to tackle child malnutrition is much more difficult to understand. Sadly, the efforts that went to reduce the infant and under five mortality rates did not assist in bringing down the malnutrition figures.

On a more positive note the report says while moderate child malnutrition is pervasive in Sri Lanka the rates, of severe malnutrition, are very low and are in the range of 3-5 per cent. However, the report states that one out of three children up to age 5 is underweight.

Amazingly, 15 per cent of children even from well to do households are underweight and stunted. Child malnutrition is considerably higher in the conflict affected North and Eastern provinces (46 per cent) than the rest of the country.

Here the prevalence of malnutrition is higher among the boys (50 per cent) than the girls (46 per cent). Notwithstanding the high levels of female literacy and access to medical services there is also revealing evidence of discrimination against girls in the allocation of nutritional and medical services within households.

As data for each MDG is analyzed and presented the importance of infrastructure facilities for attaining the MDGs become evident. The findings show that poverty and child malnutrition are high in areas where access to electricity is lacking.

As one would expect, child malnutrition is affected by lack of access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation facilities.

The report interestingly show through simulation exercises that expanding electricity coverage from 57 to 72 per cent would in itself reduce child malnutrition rate by 5 percent.

Two factors that emerge clearly, when data are compared regionally and provincially, are the diversity of outcomes among the various social indicators and the variation in achieving the MDG targets.

These findings draw attention to the unpalatable truth that even if the country as a whole attains a particular MDG, some regions in the country might still fall way below the expected outcomes. The necessity to systematically monitor millennium development outcomes and the impact of social assistance programs such as Samurdhi are stressed.

The report argues that the right set of interventions with which to achieve the MDGs is only possible if data is available to evaluate which anti-poverty programs have been successful and which have not.

The Millennium Development Goals

1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.

2. Achieve universal primary education.

3. Promote gender equality and empower women

4. Reduce child mortality

5. Improve maternal health

6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

7. Ensure environmental sustainability

8. Develop global partnership for development.

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