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Poverty – Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a low-middle income country and a developing nation. The nation has been working towards economic prosperity. However, the country still faces high rates of rural poverty. This paper seeks to highlight the causes of poverty in Sri Lanka and efforts towards a sustainable and economically prosperous society.

The origin of rural poverty in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is an island nation with approximately 21.7 million people. These numbers are higher during the Christmas and Easter seasons when tourists flock to the country for their mountainous terrain and beaches. The nation is similar to a tropical paradise, but poverty is a severe issue; the nation has been recovering from the civil war since 1983. What is worrying is that 90 percent of the poor live in rural areas, and eighty percent of Sri Lanka’s population live in this region. In 2012, the rural poverty rate in Sri Lanka was at 7.6 percent. However, the rate continues to shrink. Currently, the overall poverty level in Sri Lanka is at 4 percent (Kumari et al., 2020).

Sri Lanka has an extensive rural sector leading to unequal spatial wealth distribution. By 2013, 85 percent of poor population in the country lived in the rural areas while the wealthy is highly concentrated in urban areas (Kumari et al., 2020). Agriculture is the key income earner in the rural areas leading to high incidents of poverty in these areas since farmers’ wages have remained stagnant for many years (Kumari et al., 2020). The industry remains inefficient since the government is not keen on investing funds in research. The agricultural sector concentrated mainly on rice farming. Inadequate funding of irrigation systems and canals causes the discrepancies experienced in terms of productivity and economic prosperity.

The poverty cycle is also a key issue in Sri Lankan rural poverty. Many of those experiencing poverty have no way of escaping it or assisting their children. It is challenging for poor people to secure themselves from loss of life or saving money. Poor people cannot pass assets to their heirs since they face similar conditions; the children in these households have to choose between working and education. While working offers instant relief to the families, education will offer security for better employment in the long run. Poor households have limited connections making it challenging to find well-paying employment (Kumari et al., 2020). The education system also contributes to poverty in Sri Lanka. Education is not designed to offer learners adequate skills for employment. The Sri Lankan curriculum is founded on learning through repetition. According to studies, 63 percent of graduating learners in 2003 were not conversant in their native language, nor were they proficient in mathematics. The learners were also not prepared for employment or furthering education. Although the country is facing rural poverty, the country is working towards attaining progress in eradicating hunger and extreme poverty.

Strategies used to overcome rural poverty in Sri Lanka

In the past decade, Sri Lanka has been rapidly combating poverty. Residents can now attend school with school completion rates increasing. People can also earn durable assets, including mobile phones. However, most people in Sri Lanka live slightly above the poverty threshold level; thus, they are at risk of deprivation. For these reasons, in 2017, the then Sri Lankan president marked it the poverty alleviation year. The government became committed to improving the living standards of the Sri Lankans. The core mission was ending extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity using inclusion growth. The party allegation goals would be attained through comprehensive programs connecting the private sector, public sector, and non-governmental institutions. The poverty alleviation year became the foundation of initiating efforts towards improving the wellbeing of Sri Lankan residents while eradicating the last remnants of poverty in the nation.

Sri Lanka’s people are working to reduce poverty since the poor can now earn more as the economy is shifting from agriculture towards services and industrialization. The steady economy industrialization is being accompanied by road networks and expansion of hubs, a move that will drive people to transition from agriculture into industrial and productive service jobs. However, sustaining economic growth alone cannot benefit all society sectors. Inequality is one of the key factors of poverty in Sri Lanka. Therefore, there is a need to implement policies supporting poor households and boosting productivity through quality training and education. In addition, the government needs to invest in infrastructure in poverty-ridden regions, especially in areas where livelihoods are earned through the agricultural sector (De Silva & Kawasaki, 2018). The government should also modernize the agricultural sector leading to diversification into high-value crops while ensuring that farmers are linked to markets.

The government has conducted crucial advances in minimizing maternal death and improving access to primary school system. As a result, the number of skilled practitioners attending births has been enhanced over the years (De Silva & Kawasaki, 2018). The government has also introduced reforms in the vocational and technical education sector. This sector has always been faced with irrelevant industrial training, outdated curriculum, insufficient practical work, and inadequate facilities (De Silva & Kawasaki, 2018). Efforts towards reforming the sector have begun to implement alternative career paths in higher education, aiming to offer technological, craft, and entrepreneurship skills.

Through the “small enterprise development division,” the youth affairs and sports ministry offer entrepreneurship training programs. The division reaches rural areas and has an established network of technical and financial service providers. Therefore, the poor can access an enabling environment if they seek career training guidelines and business support services.

Repression the country faces

The poor are often told that the government is focusing on reconstructing the economy and distribution of wealth restructuring. However, experts indicate a noticeable growth rate in the middle class where the purchasing power has been improved, leading to an increase in the disposable income of citizens in Sri Lanka. Further, experts indicate that Sri Lankan living standards will improve in the coming years. However, this is not a reprieve to the poor who need to put food on their tables but cannot meet their basic needs.

How rural poverty struggle is connected to concepts and theories

Living standards and economic growth

Rural poverty in Sri Lanka can be explained by living standards, economic standards, and economic growth. The Sri Lankan poverty rate decreased to 6.1 percent by 2013. However, the people’s living standards are not a reflection of the same improvement. Most of the population survives on less than five dollars a day. A third of the Sri Lankan workforce is in the agricultural industry, while half of the poor are employed working in the agricultural industry. This industry has low wages and limited opportunities for advancement compared with other regions. It is challenging for the struggling population within their agricultural industry to enhance their social standing, thus continuing advancements in rural poverty (Jayasinghe & Smith, 2021). Urbanization has been counteracting this aspect since it enables rural inhabitants to come into contact with the resources and opportunities in crowded cities. In addition, urbanization offers different employment choices, thus encouraging poor citizens to work in the agricultural sectors while engaging in the productive areas that alienate economic inequalities.

Conflict in the northern and eastern provinces

Conflicts in the northern and eastern provinces remain a constraint to poverty minimization, cause for poverty, and economic development in these regions. Every cycle of conflicts leads to loss of economic assets, displacement, destruction of human capital infrastructure, and disruption of livelihoods. Therefore, the government seeks to offer stable and secure environments to restore peace and normalcy in both regions.

Geographic location

Although poverty rates in Sri Lanka have been highly minimized since the 1970s, some geographical areas are still experiencing poverty at higher rates. Areas far from commercial and urban centers are affected by adverse poverty, with nine out of ten people facing poverty in Sri Lanka living in rural regions (Jayasinghe & Smith, 2021). These regions lack human capital resources, ports, and proximity to large markets. The western region has the highest poverty minimization rates. It has an international airport, diverse agricultural facilities, and a large urban center, which has led to access to wealth and jobs in the area. However, transporting products from the western region to other provinces requires a lot of cash. As a result, companies highly invest money and infrastructure in this region than in other regions. Consequently, a little movement is seen in other provinces, with most people finding work in the informal sector (Jayasinghe & Smith, 2021). Poor transportation methods and roads hinder growth spread to these remote areas.

Cultural factors

Poverty in rural areas can also be attributed to cultural factors, including male dominance, tolerance towards domestic abuse, and alcoholism. Male dominance hinders women from gaining independence and empowerment. In rural areas, husbands settle in the parental villages with less access to economic prosperity.

Key development indicators

Socio-economic concerns, among them climate change and malnutrition, directly impact the poverty rate in Sri Lanka. Twenty-two percent of the Sri Lankan citizens are either malnourished or underweight, indicating that citizens lack adequate minerals and nutrients. In addition, Sri Lankan climate change negatively impacts poverty rates through drought and severe floods, which limit accessibility to the provision of clean water.

Covid-19 Effects

Predictions in Sri Lanka have indicated that the country experienced a 25 percent reduction in export, leading to more than 750 million USD loss due to covid-19. The pandemic has decreased the nation’s export earnings, investment, and consumption. Top export industry (in agricultural sector) have had to implement earning and job cuts. The pandemic led to social distancing leading to a restriction in job performance and tourism, thus, leading to instability of the poverty rates and economy. The government instituted curfews and closing of international flights, thus, limiting the damage to poverty rates and the national economy.


In conclusion, Sri Lanka is on track to reducing poverty among its people. However, poverty rates remain higher in the rural sector than in the urban centers. Rural poverty is caused by many factors, among them geographical, infrastructural, and agricultural instability. The government is working towards minimizing poverty and stimulating economic growth. Successful reduction of rural poverty can be managed by implementing changes in all sectors.


De Silva, M. M. G. T., & Kawasaki, A. (2018). Socioeconomic vulnerability to disaster risk: a

case study of flood and drought impact in a rural Sri Lankan community. Ecological Economics152, 131-140.

Jayasinghe, M., & Smith, C. (2021). Poverty implications of household headship and food

consumption economies of scales: A case study from Sri Lanka. Social Indicators Research155(1), 157-185.

Kumari, D. A. T., Ferdous, A. S. M., & Klalidah, S. (2020). The impact of financial literacy on

women’s economic empowerment in developing countries: A study among the rural poor women in Sri Lanka. Asian Social Science16(2), 31-44.


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