Sept 29, Colombo: South Asian countries, including Sri Lanka, can benefit from urbanization as a major opportunity to transform their economies and join the ranks of richer nations, according to a World Bank report.
According to the report's findings, Sri Lanka has performed well relative to other countries in the region. Its urbanization has been less "messy" insofar that only a relatively small proportion of the urban population lives in slums and it has largely eradicated extreme urban poverty.
Between 1999 and 2010, Sri Lanka was the country in the region with the fastest expansion of urban area relative to urban population. Sri Lanka cut urban poverty particularly quickly, from7.9 percent in 2002 to about 2 percent in 2013.
It also fares well on the relatively small share of its urban population living in slums by regional standards, and Sri Lanka has cities that are relatively prosperous and livable.
"Better cities can help reduce vulnerability to poverty, improve living conditions, and create the environment for more and better paying jobs," Senior Director of world Bank for Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice, Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez, said in releasing the "Leveraging Urbanization in South Asia: Managing Spatial Transformation for Prosperity and Livability" report.
Since 2000, the report found that progress in Sri Lanka has also been linked with a decline in the share of the urban population living below the national poverty line and unlike many other countries in the region, the contribution made by manufacturing to Sri Lanka's GDP continued to grow between 2000 and 2010.
The report says there is a considerable "hidden" urbanization in Sri Lanka. As much as one-third of Sri Lanka's population may be living in areas that, while not officially classified as urban, nevertheless possess strong urban characteristics. In Sri Lanka, ribbon development radiates out from Colombo along major transport arteries to link it with both Kandy and Galle/Matara, revealing a dynamic urbanization process.
"According to a recent diagnostic a large share of Sri Lanka's national population that is vulnerable to poverty live in close proximity to the belt of urbanization that links Kandy, Colombo, and Galle. Large numbers of vulnerable are also found in and around the major urban centers in the north and east of the country," said Francoise Clottes, World Bank Country Director for Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
"Sri Lanka has been experiencing a dynamic spatial transformation process driven by the Kandy-Colombo-Galle urbanization belt as well as localized single-city agglomerations in the eastern and northern parts of the country, mainly around Trincomalee, Batticaloa-Akkaraipattu, and Jaffna," Clottes added.
To better tap into the economic potential that urbanization offers, the report recommends actions at the institutional level and the policy level. It suggests improving intergovernmental fiscal relations to address empowerment, identifying practical ways to increase the resources available to local governments to allow them to perform their mandated functions and strengthening mechanisms to hold local governments accountable for their actions.