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Human development


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Sri Lanka is ranked 76 in the latest Human Development Index (HDI) out of 189 countries, posting the highest spot in South Asia and indicating the country’s best opportunity for development. 

The HDI-2018, which was compiled by the UNDP and released on Friday also showed that life expectancy of Sri Lankan females was listed at an average of 78.8 years and that of males at 72.1 years. Meanwhile, neighbouring India ranked at 130, Bhutan at 134, Bangladesh at 136, Nepal at 149, Pakistan at 150 and Afghanistan at 168 places in the HDI Index.

The health sector of Sri Lanka showed better outcomes with only 30 deaths per 100,000 live births under the Maternal Mortality Rate category. More than 75% of infants below five months in Sri Lanka are being exclusively breastfed and the HIV prevalence was reported as 0.1% between the ages 15 to 49. The adult literacy rate was high at 91.2% with 82.6 females and 83.1 males having at least some secondary education from the total population. 

The index underscores Sri Lanka’s attempt to move away from a public investment dependent economy dominated by the State sector to embrace a new private investment-tradable sector-led growth model, in which a large, skilled labour force will be vital to driving growth and addressing the challenges presented by the demographic transition to an aging population. 

Improving the supply of jobs, through attracting more Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to plug into global and regional value chains, improving the environment for trade, business, innovation and entrepreneurship are essential.

Equally important is addressing the supply of labour, by encouraging female labour force participation and equipping students with the relevant skills required in an aspiring Upper Middle-Income economy, the World Bank has pointed out in its latest Development Update.

Regional disparities too must be addressed. The consequences of the conflict are still visible in the labour outcomes in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, with employment rates in these provinces still below the national average – 44% and 42% in the Northern and Eastern Provinces as compared to employment rates of 50% and 54% in the Western Province and other provinces, respectively. It is clear that post-conflict provinces need to create the most jobs.

Across the board, reforms could grow the Sri Lankan workforce as the country aims to create 1 million new jobs through a knowledge-based, highly competitive, social market economy focused on inclusion. This means attracting investment into high skilled sectors and also equipping the workforce to be competent in these sectors. 

Central Bank Governor Dr. Indrajit Coomaraswamy in a recent address noted that the reason Sri Lanka managed to maintain solid 4% growth during the war was because of the demographic dividend but as an aging population Sri Lanka would have to move into areas such as innovation at a much earlier stage than other countries with similar emerging market dynamics. 

All this calls for a legal overhaul of labour legislation, greater investment in education, especially higher education, attracting the right kind of investment and stronger attitudinal changes to attract more women to the formal labour force. Sri Lanka must tap into the potential shown by its HDI rank for it to stand a chance at fast-tracked development.


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