Despite mentioning that Sri Lanka had made strides in reducing poverty, the World Bank, in its latest report, ‘Sri Lanka: Ending Poverty and Promoting Prosperity’ stated that pockets of severe poverty remained in predominantly Tamil-speaking areas in the country despite the progress.
Several regions were identified by the report as being affected by severe poverty, including some districts in the former war zone. The most affected area, according to the report, has been identified as Mullaittivu, where the war came to an end in 2009.
“The second is Batticaloa in the Eastern Province, and the last one is Moneragala in the Uva Province. Areas with higher poverty rates also tend to have a larger portion of the bottom 40 percent,” the World Bank report mentioned.
Even though it has been nearly seven years since the guns were silenced, Mullaittivu has not been able to progress at the rate the other districts in the North. Even Kilinochchi, which also felt the brunt of the final stages of the war, is ahead of Mullaittivu and Mannar in terms of reducing poverty, the report stated.
“The first is the former conflict districts in the Northern Province, Mullaittivu, Mannar, and, to a lesser extent, Kilinochchi District,” the report said. Kurunegala in the center of the country, for instance, is home to 7.6 percent of the country’s poor even though only seven percent of its population lives under the official poverty line. In contrast, Mullaittivu, Kilinochchi, and Mannar in the North, have very high estimated poverty rates (20.8 to 31.4 percent), but account for less than five percent of poor people nationwide due to the low population density in those regions,” the report added.
After the end of the war, most of the developmental works in the North were focused in and around Kilinochchi and Jaffna. Since Kilinochchi sits along the main Highway (A9) which connects the Northern and Southern parts of the country, it is natural that most development work is concentrated within this region.
On the other hand, Mullaittivu, which is approximately 60 kilometers East of Kilinochchi was affected the most during the final stages of the war. Mullaittivu, as of 2012, had a population of 91, 947 whereas Kilinochchi recorded 112,875.Ever since the war ended, the Government and Non-government agencies had focused their attention more on Kilinochchi, which was also the de-facto capital of the LTTE. Lack of access to the labour market and high unemployment rates, particularly among the youth are considered as the main factors for the prevalence of high poverty rates in the region.
According to the Government Agent of Mullaithivu, Roopavathi Ketheeswaran, access to job opportunities for young men and women in Mullaittivu is far less than those available in Kilinochchi. Speaking to Nation, Ketheeswaran pointed out that Mullaittivu contained a lot of resources but had very little openings to utilize the available resources. “Most of the people want a job where they could go in the morning and return in the evening. However, most of the youth and educated women do not have that opportunity,” she said.
There happens to be one factory which provides jobs for approximately 1,000 females. “In addition, there is a roof tile manufacturing factory in Oddusuddan, Mullaittivu. We need to restart its operations if we are to provide more jobs,” Ketheeswaran said.
Even the vocational training provided to many of the youths tends to focus on empowering them in terms of self- employment. So far, trainings have been provided on masonry, carpentry, electrical wiring, Information Technology, home gardening and several other sectors. “Now we have started to provide training on welding and iron work. “We are conducting training with the support of several mechanical workshops. Those who have been trained would eventually be employed at these workshops,” she added.
Meanwhile, Economist and Founder, Point Pedro Institute of Development, Dr. Muttukrishna Sarvananthan said that even though construction sector had seen a boom during the past few years, the benefit of such developments had not reached the grassroots level. From 2011 to 2013, investment on the construction industry in the North had increased by 56 percent while the income level for residents in the area had only seen an increase of a mere 5.6 percent.
“What has happened is that the benefit of these development activities has not reached the grassroot level. Therefore, their income generation continues to be very low,” he said.
He also explained that most construction workers employed in the North were from other parts of the country. “Only a handful of people were employed from the North. This too had an impact on the income generation of the people in the North,” Dr. Sarvananthan added.
Poverty headcount rate by ethnicity