Siyambalaanduwa in Monaragala district most poverty stricken area
Poverty reduction at the national level has been slow in Sri Lanka due to widening growth disparities across sectors and regions a new World Bank report "Poverty Assessment for Sri Lanka: Engendering Growth with Equity: Opportunities and Challenges" stated.
This was revealed at a workshop held in Colombo yesterday to discuss the key findings of the World Bank report.
“Poverty reduction has been hampered by slow economic growth outside the Western Province which remains predominantly rural. Sri Lanka needs to integrate the rural economy into the growth path enjoyed by the Western Province," said Naoko Ishii, World Bank Country Director in Sri Lanka opening the workshop.
This report was done in close collaboration with a number of local partners and it explores the reasons behind the slow and uneven rate of poverty reduction in the country, high and widening inequality between and within regions, sectors and how economic growth can be made more inclusive of lagging regions or sectors.
Special attention has been paid to the challenges faced by the war ravaged North and East, increased poverty in estates and stagnation in rural areas. The report further states that poverty reduction in Sri Lanka has been uneven across sectors—rapid in the urban sector, but slow or stagnant in rural and estate sectors. The national poverty rate reduced from 26 percent in 1990-91 to 23 percent in 2002. While urban poverty halved during this period, rural poverty declined by less than 5 percentage points and poverty in the estates (plantation sector) increased significantly— making this sector the poorest in the country. These estimates exclude the North and East, for which data suitable for measuring poverty was not available.
"A high concentration of households around the poverty line in 2002 suggests a sizable vulnerable population at risk of falling into poverty as a result of economic shocks or natural disasters," says Princess Ventura, economist World Bank and co-author of the report.
This finding indicates the need to improve the effectiveness of safety net and welfare programs, including in the estate sector where coverage is limited. Also a number of interrelated factors have held the poor back from accessing opportunities in the dynamic sectors of the economy. Higher poverty is associated with areas characterized by low connectivity to towns and markets, and lack of access to electricity and quality human capital, all of which limit the growth of non-farm enterprises.
Poverty is also associated with individual attributes of household members, such as low educational attainment and employment in low-skilled occupations in the informal sector including agricultural wage work. Higher school dropout rate among children of poor families at secondary and tertiary levels and malnutrition among poor children limit lifetime earning potential and contribute to keeping them trapped in a poverty cycle. The multifaceted nature of poverty calls for coordinated interventions.
At the live discussion the participants unanimously emphasised the importance of restoring peace and stable government policies in the process of eradicating poverty in Sri Lanka. Further more they pointed out the need to empower women, youth and the elderly.
Lalith Weeratunga Secretary to the President in his overview on poverty and inequality said, “We have comprehensive programme in our ten year plan forward through Mahinda Chinthana where we focused on modernisation instead of urbanisation.”
The programmes they have implemented under Mahinda Chinthana focuses on the upliftment of the villages which have perished over the years. Accordingly the government has steered holistic approaches through programmes such as, “Nanasala”-to impart knowledge of Information Technology among the rural community, “Gama Naguma”-to upgrade the village life, “Maga Naguma”- for road development.
“Each village should get electricity and common telecommunication system. Dailong has already taken the lead in taking telecommunication to villages” added Weeratunga.
Department of Census and Statistics in their survey has identified Siyambalaanduwa in Monaragala district as the most poverty stricken area among the 119 poverty stricken villages they have selected.
Dr. R.M.K Ratnayake Secretary Ministry of Trade and Commerce pointed out that everything is correlated in poverty. Even though urban sector poverty is reduced by 10% and rural sector by 5% state sector poverty has increased by 50%. “Farmers don’t want their sons and daughters to follow their footsteps and take up agriculture instead they wanted them out of it. In order to avoid it we should set up new polices” commented Dr. Ratnayake. He highlighted the fact that agricultural people can be encouraged through Land titling Act where they will get an opportunity to own lands. “Through improving agriculture sector we can increase productivity” he added.
Further elaborating on poverty and inequality in Sri Lanka Dr. Dileni Gunawardena Senior Lecturer, Department of Economics and Statistics University of Peradeniya said that urbanization should be taken out of the Western Province. “The concept Wewai- Dagabai Gamai- pansalai doesn’t assist eradication of poverty” expressed Dr. Gunawardena. She recognised inflation as another candidate for poverty and coordination dilemma of every government. She also pointed out the importance of education in eradicating poverty.