Poverty Update: The Four Main Causes of Poverty in Sri Lanka


COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — The poverty rate in Sri Lanka in 2013 was 6.7 percent. Due to reforms in the 1980s, poverty was reduced throughout the country. However, some geographic areas and some employment sectors saw a greater reduction in poverty. The main causes of poverty in Sri Lanka are living far from a commercial center, employment in agriculture, being born into an impoverished family and an inadequate education system.

1. Geographic Location
While the overall poverty rate in Sri Lanka greatly decreased since the 1970’s, some geographic areas face poverty at a much higher rate. Regions far from urban and commercial centers experience the most poverty. Nine out of ten people facing poverty in Sri Lanka live in rural areas. These regions lack ports, human capital resources and proximity to large markets.

The Western Province had the greatest poverty reduction. It has many agriculture facilities, an international airport, and has a large urban center that brought jobs and wealth into the area. The cost to transport products between the Western Province and other provinces is very high.

Companies are more likely to invest infrastructure and money into the Western Province than other areas. There is also very little movement of labor between provinces. In other provinces, most people find work in the informal sector due to the distance from commercial centers. Poor roads and transportation methods do not help the spread of wealth to more remote areas.

2. Agriculture as a main source of income
Among households where the main income earner is employed in the agriculture sector, the poverty rate is 40 percent. This is the highest incidence of poverty across business sectors in Sri Lanka. The wages for rice farmers remained stagnant over the years.

The industry is very inefficient and the government does not invest funds in research to improve productivity for rice farming. Inadequate funding of the canals and irrigation system caused many apparatuses to fail. This further reduces the productivity of the rice paddies.

3. Cycle of Poverty
Among the causes of poverty in Sri Lanka is living in a poor household. Many who are poor in Sri Lanka today have no means of escaping for themselves or helping their children. It is very difficult for poor people to save money and secure themselves from shocks like illness or death. People in poverty rarely pass assets to their children so they face the same conditions.

Children in poor households often have to choose between working and their education. While working will benefit their families immediately, an education will ensure better employment in the long run. Poor households also have fewer connections, which makes it difficult to find better employment.

4. Unfocused Education System
The last of the main causes of poverty in Sri Lanka is the education system. It is not designed to give students skills they need for employment. The curriculum is based on abstraction and learning through repetition. In 2003, 63 percent of graduating students did not learn the native language and 62 percent were not proficient in mathematics. Students are not prepared for employment or further education.

Sarah Denning
Photo: Flickr


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