From Poverty to Sustainability in Sri Lanka

19 Oct 2011

In marking the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, Senior Minister for International Monetary Co-operation, Hon. Dr. Sarath Amunugama, called for more detailed research and analysis of current social welfare practices to better define future programmes, as well as address issues such as their impact on labour mobility. He made these remarks during a policy dialogue jointly hosted by United Nations, the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS) and the Ministry of Economic Development.
The event, held on October 17, 2011 at IPS, saw representatives from the Government, the private sector, as well as regional and Sri Lanka experts from UNDP, ILO, UNICEF and WFP deliberate on the global theme for the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, ‘From Poverty to Sustainability – People at the Centre of Inclusive Development’.
Speaking further, the Minister highlighted Sri Lanka’s success in poverty alleviation and emphasized the importance of enhancing the capabilities of the poor in order to help them lift themselves out of poverty. 
“Poverty levels in Sri Lanka have reduced from 15.2% in 2006/07 to 8.9% according to data from the Department of Census and Statistics. Yet, in poor areas, including in the estate sector, poverty indices are higher. Therefore, we need to look into it as regional, provincial and district analyses,” he added, explaining the need to take into consideration the mode of analyses as vital in addressing poverty alleviation. 
The theme is also relevant in the context of Asia, where many countries have sustained high rates of growth for a number of years, said Mr. Ajay Chhibber, the UN Assistant Secretary General, Director of UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific and Chair of the UN Development Group, Asia and the Pacific, in a pre-recorded message. He went on to explain that the challenge for Sri Lanka and many other countries in the world today is to translate this growth into reducing poverty for a much higher proportion of the population.
Also expressing his thoughts at the event, the UN Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka and UNDP Resident Representative, Mr. Subinay Nandy highlighted the opportunity presented by the end of the war and the strength of the economy, and encouraged partners to jointly look for new and bold ways of improving the lives of those that continue to live in hardship.
He noted that available data on per capita income, health and education shows lower levels in the North and the East when compared to national averages, and also drew attention to pockets of vulnerability elsewhere in the country most noticeably among plantation workers, female headed households, the disabled and elderly.
The dialogue also marked the first in a series of consultations that the UN will undertake with IPS and the Government to address issues of poverty alleviation. Dr. Saman Kellegama, Executive Director of IPS explained that such consultations would help build a common understanding of the poverty dimensions in the country, take stock of best practices, policies and programmes as well as explore policy options that would transform Sri Lanka’s lagging regions into emerging economic centres.
With reference to the latter, UNDP has played a key role in supporting the Government in its efforts to reduce poverty levels in the country and attain the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  The MDG progress Report supported by UNDP   also reported, despite the gains, there were significant regional variations. 
Dr. Kellegama went on to add that the Institute is working in partnership with UNDP to prepare the National Human Development Report (NHDR) for Sri Lanka.  NHDR will provide a comprehensive analysis of human development patterns across Sri Lanka. The report will focus on key sectors including health, education, employment, livelihood and governance and will provide policy recommendations to address regional disparities and inequalities in Sri Lanka.
A major focus of the dialogue was how partners could collectively support the implementation of the Mahinda Chinthana vision of “Balanced Regional Development with Diversity” – the intention to transform all regions to ensure every household has the opportunity to benefit from economic development.
Speakers at the event included representatives from Government, the Jaffna University, the Private Sector and experts from the regional and Sri Lanka country offices of ILO, UNDP, UNICEF, and WFP. Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria from the University Kebangsaan Malaysia delivered the keynote regional address.