Challenges for a Sustainable Economic Development in Sri Lanka

Image courtesy Norwegian Embassy, Sri Lanka

First of all, I would like to define sustainable development.  According to the Brundtland report it is “a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

But it is important to go further in the definition: “Sustainable development has 2 concepts: the first one is the needs, particularly the needs of the poor, to whom priority should be given. The second is the idea that the actual state of technology and social organization impose limitations to the capacity of the environment to satisfy present and future needs.”

This definition is an invitation to think differently. Sri Lanka has to thrive by following this path for a sustainable development, which is taking care of poverty, and economic development while taking into account environmental constraints. Sri Lankan growth rate is high (8%), true story, but if we dig a little further, we can see that the income inequality has been increasing over the years. Sri Lankan Gini index is 42 on a scale of 100, with 100 representing a perfect inequality. Our country is among the most unequal countries of the world. Moreover, 12% of the population is still living below poverty line and the share of the population over 60 will double from 10 to 20 % over the next 25 years; this trend will have an aggregate impact on the economy through labor force participation and health care.

Sustainable development implies to work simultaneously on different objectives, which will take Sri Lanka towards prosperity and peace. It is not about achieving an ideal but it is a process aiming towards constant improvement taking into account the environmental dimension in order for the whole population to benefit from it.

I decided to point out some main challenges for a sustainable economic development in Sri Lanka:

  • The challenge for production and consumption thanks to responsible producers and consumers who would take into account life cycles of their products and services.
  • The challenge of developing knowledge and information, training, while valorizing research and innovation which are the basis for Sri Lanka’s competitiveness.
  • The challenge of climate change and energy, which requires more responsibility in the consumption of those in Sri Lanka who have the chance to be wealthier. The development of sustainable energies, proper land settlements while taking into account vulnerable activities and people.
  • The challenge for a sustainable mobility looking for an innovative transportation system, which could satisfy our economical and ecological performances.
  • The challenge for biodiversity conservation and sustainable management. Working for a better knowledge of biodiversity and for a better appreciation of its contribution to our most essential needs, on our economy, our urbanization, for an eco-innovative Sri Lanka.
  • The challenge of demography and social integration, by fighting against any kind of exclusion, leaning upon the multicultural dimension of Sri Lanka.
  • The last but not the least: The challenge for proper governance:  I promised myself not to say what it shouldn’t be, as I think we have some good examples…But according to me it should be one that facilitates the adaptation to changes and help Sri Lankan society to develop by taking into account ALL the stakeholders.

Of course these challenges are not easy, Sri Lanka requires a new economy not only Sri Lanka perhaps the whole world. Capitalism and democracy are proved to be the most effective in our world, but it is important to think about which form of capitalism and which type of democratic participation we want for our country?

Whatever this new economy will be, it needs to put investment in the heart of these challenges: Reconceive investments. We are still living in a world where investment is about a mindless and relentless pursuit of consumption growth. We need to invest to nurture and protect the ecological assets on which our future depends. We need to invest in the idea of a simple and meaningful prosperity by providing capabilities for our people to flourish.

The main point I’m trying to make is this. It is up to us to make those changes starting on our own scale, there won’t be a one sized solution, and as one of my teacher said: “We are all learning by doing, but the operative word is doing”.

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[Thisal Dewundara holds a BBA from ESSEC Business School (Paris) and is currently preparing a Master in Tourism Management at the Centre for Higher Studies on Tourism (IREST/Sorbonne). He also works as a revenue management analyst at the SNCF (French National Railway Corporation).

Thisal participated at the French-Sri Lankan Diaspora Youth Workshop “Post-War Reconciliation Dialogue for a Sustainable Peace”, which took place in Paris, on October 27th, 2012. He participated as a panelist on the theme “Towards an effective and sustainable economic development”.

The event was organized by What’s Next!, an independent forum comprising of post-graduates and young professionals of Sri Lankan origin residing in France. What’s Next! seeks to promote a sustainable peace in Sri Lanka through intellectual exchange and multicultural dialogue.]

  • P.L.J.B.Palipana

    You are highly appreciated Thisal for this valuable article.

    • Neville Perera

      Just imagine how much better it’d be if and when ”What next” folks learn about the urgent need to change the structural violence of the major institutions to have any impact on the most marginalised, ie. the ethnic minorities.

  • Sie.Kathieravealu

    A very good article. The contents SHOULD have been brought to the notice of the Head of State many decades ago. I would say “soon after the first general election held in 1947″. However it is “Better late than never”

    I am a person, like the vast majority (99%), interested in “good governance”. I give below my ideas for “good governance”:

    “The best political solution or system of governance to address the problems faced by various sections of the society – particularly the poor, the politically weak and the various categories of “minorities” who do not carry any “political weight” – would be to DILUTE the powers of all elected representatives of the people by separating the various powers usurped in unilaterally by the present Parliament and by horizontally empowering different sets of people’s representatives elected on different area basis to administer the different sets of the separated powers at different locations.
    It should NOT be “devolution” where ONE person or one set of persons, would still be holding the entire political power BUT it must be the sharing of power HORIZONTALLY where each and every set of representatives would be in the SAME LEVEL as equals and in par.”

    It is my humble belief that a good discussion on the above concept would benefit the country.

  • Citizen

    These are good in theory but difficult to implement under the current political system. We need good leaders who can rise above politics, race and religon. Present leaders have a different agenda.

  • Jayalath

    Dear Thisal .

    Thank you for your challenging attitude.the life is always a challenge,and competitive .the knoledge and dogged competent is the way to success. But when you speak about the sustainable development ,which way and what are the materials . All will be depended on the out come and turn over . What ever it is As,it will cost a time and capital .
    Also you have said about the limitations due to the environmental issues, all are serious issues to be considered .

    Ultimately the objective is great . We have to support these people who are really seeked the support .thank you for doing that again .

  • Lester

    Sri Lankan growth rate is high (8%)

    This is an absurd claim fabricated by the Central Bank. Besides the fact that they themselves compile the data, we should note that net exports are down , unemployment is high, inflation is also high, and the rupee has steadily depreciated relative to the dollar ever since Mahinda Rajapakse came to power. With all this in mind, how can anyone logically argue that the Sri Lankan economy is growing at 8% annually? Most of the mega-development projects in Sri Lanka do not even employ local labor, so what does that say about wages, except that they have remained sticky. The only area of the economy that has retained consistent growth is foreign remittances, but foreign remittances alone are not enough to maintain 8% economic growth. In my opinion, the Sri Lankan economy has been growing at 3% or 4% annually, since the end of the war.

  • Ward

    I think “Sustainable development has 2 concepts: the first one is the needs, particularly the needs of the poor, to whom priority should be given. The second is the idea that the actual state of technology and social organization impose limitations to the capacity of the environment to satisfy present and future needs”

    is contained within this:

    “a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

    We can see that the author likes to see that we don’t forget i.the poor and ii.the state of technology and social organization.

    That’s fine.

    Some people (like me) ”think” of sustainable development in the framework of social organisation.

    Under the current circumstances, there are two ”governing systems” in this country – one system for the North without a Provincial Council and the rest of the country with Provincial Councils. The Provincial Council can theoretically have a systemic (and hence sustainable) plan for development. In the North it’s very haphazard and unsystemic and hence unsustainable – the Presidential Task Force for Northern Development is made of people from the Central Government and the Armed Forces and located in Colombo and uncoordinated (as the government is trying to ”capture” the Provincial Council when the elections are held) decisions are made by various sections of government party who wish to become the ”stakeholders” in the future.

    To this chaos please add
    1.the very large number of government-funded bus trips for the people of the South to the North and the precarious water table – http://www.trust.org/alertnet/news/wars-end-threatens-water-supply-in-northern-sri-lanka

    2.the very large number of Buddha statues getting erected (nobody objects the Buddhist philosophy) all over the North taking up actual physical space (part of which need to be filled with trees as Carbon absorbers) while IDPs are forcibly dumped in cleared jungles away from their original coastal villages

    3.the huge government-funded ”occupation” army running business ventures in all sectors distorting the market prices and employment opportunities of residents mired in pverty

    4.haphazard erection of houses and business ventures to replace the destroyed buildings – using this chance to make a systemic plan of housing/building as mentioned by some to LLRC is very crucial

    5.scooping sand from seashores (some villages are inundated with seawater – sealevel rise in other parts of the world is due to temperature rise but here governance issue) and cutting down trees and exporting to the South with the help of the army without the ”Environmental Impact Assessment” required in the South of the country

    ……
    ……….

    • silva

      Ward

      I believe that under ”two governing systems” you simply forgot (and didn’t really mean to leave out) that one system is under highly flawed ”democratic” system on the South and military rule on the North.

  • silva

    Sustainable Development urgently needed topic for Sri Lanka:

    ”Fisheries in the Indian Ocean are being massively overexploited … Greenpeace International had earlier found two illegal Sri Lankan fishing boats in the Chagos marine reserve” –
    Greenpeace records illegal fishing, 13 November 2012, http://www.worldfishing.net/news101/greenpeace-records-illegal-fishing

    ”Sri Lanka is exposed as the worst polluter of the Indian Ocean” – Protecting Sri Lanka’s Ocean, 22 August 2012, http://groundviews.org/2012/08/22/protecting-sri-lankas-ocean/

    • silva

      This is partly due to aggressive promotion of tourism out of proportion of the size of the island and socio-economic spread in the island. Grabbing the livelihood coastal regions of the poor for tourist resorts of the rich exacerbates the problem.