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Social Development

Sri Lanka at 70: Looking back and forward

Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough's picture
A view from the Independence day parade.At 70, Sri Lanka has accomplished a lot in its seven decades as an independent nation.
A view from the 2018 Independence Day parade. At 70, Sri Lanka has accomplished a lot in its seven decades as an independent nation. Credit: World Bank

Like many Sri Lankans across the country, I joined Sri Lanka’s 70th Independence Day festivities earlier this month. This was undoubtedly a joyful moment, and proof of the country’s dynamism and stability. At 70, Sri Lanka has accomplished a lot in its seven decades as an independent nation.
 
The country’s social indicators, a measure of the well-being of individuals and communities, rank among the highest in South Asia and compare favorably with those in middle-income countries. In the last half-century, better healthcare for mothers and their children has reduced maternal and infant mortality to very low levels.
 
Sri Lanka’s achievements in education have also been impressive. Close to 95 percent of children now complete primary school with an equal proportion of girls and boys enrolled in primary education and a slightly higher number of girls than boys in secondary education.
 
The World Bank has been supporting Sri Lanka’s development for more than six decades. In 1954, our first project, Aberdeen-Laxapana Power Project, which financed the construction of a dam, a power station, and transmissions lines, was instrumental in helping the young nation meet its growing energy demands, boost its trade and develop light industries in Colombo, and provide much-needed power to tea factories and rubber plantations. In post-colonial Sri Lanka, this extensive electrical transmission and distribution project aimed to serve new and existing markets and improve a still fragile national economy.
 
Fast forward a few decades and Sri Lanka in 2018 is a far more prosperous and sophisticated country than it was in 1954 and, in many ways, has been a development success story. Yet, the island nation still faces some critical challenges as it strives to transition to another stage of its development and become a competitive upper middle-income country.
 
Notably, the current overreliance on the public-sector as the main engine for growth and investment, from infrastructure to healthcare, is reaching its limits.  With one of the world’s lowest tax to gross domestic product (GDP) ratios -- 12% in 2016, down from 24% in 1978 —Sri Lanka’s public sector is now facing serious budget constraints and the country needs to look for additional sources of finance to boost and sustain its growth.
 
As outlined in its Vision 2025, the current government has kickstarted an ambitious reform agenda to help the country move from a public investment to a more private investment growth model to enhance competitiveness and lift all Sri Lankans’ standards of living.
 
Now is the time to steer this vision into action. This is urgent as Sri Lanka is one of the world’s most protectionist countries and one of the hardest to start and run a business. As it happens, private foreign investment is much lower than in comparable economies and trade as a proportion of GDP has decreased from 88% in 2000 to 50% in 2016. Reversing this downward trend is critical for Sri Lanka to meet its development aspirations and overcome the risk of falling into a permanent “middle-income trap.”

South-South and practitioner-practitioner knowledge exchange: An effective way to share, replicate, and scale up solutions to development challenges

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
There is a growing demand from World Bank clients and partners to learn about development solutions from fellow practitioners, particularly those who have faced challenges similar to the ones they are confronting in their own countries.

Whether they take the form of:
  • two-country exchanges through Study Tours or Expert Visits,
  • or multi-country exchanges in the form of Technical Deep Dives,
  • Conferences,
  • or Workshops,

Improving public service delivery through local collective action

Xavier Gine's picture

In the past two decades, development policy has aimed to involve communities in the development process by encouraging the active participation of communities in the design and implementation of projects or the allocation of local resources. The World Bank alone has provided more than $85 billion for participatory development since the early 2000s.

How to prepare a country to respond to a disaster

Diana Rubiano's picture
Ecuador is paying more and more attention to data collection and disaster risk management across sectors​.
 Paul Salazar.
The Cruz-Castro Family searching for their belongings after the 2016 earthquake in Pedernales, Ecuador. Photo: Paul Salazar / World Bank.
Disasters occur worldwide and are part of everyone’s life. Ever since they were first recorded, floods, hurricanes and earthquakes have marked the history of humanity and its evolution. Today, our efforts focus on preparing for and responding to the impacts of these events. This way we can reduce material damages and human suffering.

Disaster risk management is a priority for many countries in the Latin America and the Caribbean region.

Youth volunteers in Yemen provide hope during conflict

Khalid Moheyddeen's picture


Even before the protractive conflict, implementing development projects in some of the most remote and disadvantaged districts in a number of Yemeni governorates faced significant challenges. To address these challenges, and overcome some of the problems related to access to these remote areas, Yemen’s Social Fund for Development (SFD) devised a program in 2004 to attract youth interested in volunteering to promote development. In its first phase, this program — known as “Rural Advocates Working for Development (RAWFD)” — targeted a number of male and female students from these remote areas and provided them with a development-related program while they are attending universities in major cities. After graduation, these young graduates made a big difference in facilitating SFD operations and activities of other national and international organizations in their home areas. 

Mapping Afghanistan’s future, one road at a time

Walker Bradley's picture
Mapping Afghanistan’s future, one road at a time
OpenStreetMap is an open source geospatial data portal built and maintained by a community of mappers. Photo Credit: Taimani Films/ World Bank


In May 2017, the World Bank celebrated its 15 years of reengagement in Afghanistan. Since reengagement, we have helped the government deliver public services to its citizens and, in the process, accumulated a wealth of data on many sectors from health and education to infrastructure.

However, publicly available base data used across sectors – also called ‘foundation’ data-- is still lacking. As it happens, that information is important to design projects and inform policies.

Case in point: while we may have data on vaccines given or babies born, we don’t know much about the roads that lead to the clinic. Similarly, we may get data on school attendance and passing rates of students, but we don’t know how long it takes for students to reach their schools.

These examples highlight how foundation data can help better plan the expansion of healthcare facilities or enhance access to education. After all, each mapped kilometer of a road can help us understand how long Afghan children must walk to get to school or how long it takes sick Afghans to reach a hospital.

Without question, there is a clear need for better foundation data to inform decision making at all levels.

Resilient Haitian cities – live today but think about tomorrow!

Sameh Wahba's picture


Landing in Port-au-Prince awakens your senses. Exiting the airplane, you are re-energized by the explosion of colors, the welcoming smiles, and the warm weather – particularly when coming from a cold January in Washington, D.C.  Loud honking, a high density of houses and buildings, and streets bustling with pedestrians and small informal businesses are all evidence of the rapid urbanization process in Haiti.
As soon as you land, the challenges of the city are evident; Port-au-Prince expands to the ocean on flat plains exposed to flooding and quickly rises on steep hills with challenging access and risks of landslides and flash floods.  The reconstruction efforts after the earthquake in 2010 are still ongoing, and many of the houses seem to be hanging from the sky, perched on steep slopes. If you look at the houses from afar they appear as a single skyscraper, as distance makes the houses seem as if they are built on top of the one another. These false skyscrapers are highly exposed to landslides, flooding and earthquakes.

Walking in the Footsteps of History – Towards the Social Fund for Development in Iraq

Ghassan Alkhoja's picture


It had rained a couple of days ago. Our footsteps almost float on soil that feels soft, almost spongy. We see footprints of wolves that roam the lands at night. The sun is low in the sky, and a slight breeze wafts all around us. There is serenity in the air, as if history itself is imprinted in the consciousness of this land. This is Uruk, some 300 kilometers south of Baghdad, and some 7,000 years from the start of civilization. 

Last year in May, I authored a blog about the Iraq Social Fund for Development (SFD) project. I wrote about Iraq’s glorious history, its abundant natural resources, its profound cultural heritage, and its vast human capital. I wrote about the cradle of civilization and the great rivers, embodied by the city of Uruk, one of the earliest urban centers in civilization, which many believe lent its name to modern day “Iraq”. I also wrote of the deep challenges that are facing the people of Iraq. Successive years of conflict, violence and displacement have significantly eroded or destroyed much of what the people of this land have built. Today, I write about the promise of history, the optimism of the present, and the potential for a more promising future. 

Bolivia’s path to urban resilience

Melanie Kappes's picture
A house after a flood in Bolivia. World Bank.

Imagine you live in a city that floods, sometime for weeks, after extreme rainfalls.

Imagine you live in that flooded city, where you and thousands of your neighbors must find a place to stay till the water has receded, and you finally can get back home, with the fear of finding it devastated.

The city of Trinidad is a place like this, located in Bolivia’s Amazonian low-lands, and with heavy prolonged precipitation, rivers, lagoons and lakes rise, affecting thousands of families.

Overall in Bolivia, 43% of the population lives in areas of high flood risk. Trinidad and other cities in the low-lands experience inundations, while in La Paz, Bolivia’s political center, frequent landslides lead to fatalities and damage to housing and infrastructure.

Incentives for cleaner cities in Nepal

Charis Lypiridis's picture
The "orange city" of Dhankuta, Nepal. Photo: World Bank
The "orange city" of Dhankuta, Nepal. Photo: World Bank


Cities across Nepal—and in the developing world—produce more waste than ever before, due to a spike in population and a surge in new economic activity and urbanization. Properly disposing and managing solid waste has thus become urgent for city municipalities.

Although collecting, storing, and recycling solid waste can represent up to 50 percent of a municipality’s annual budget, many local governments don’t collect enough revenue from waste management services to cover these costs.

As a result, landscapes and public spaces in Nepal’s urban centers are deteriorating. Less than half of the 700,000 tons of waste generated in Nepal’s cities each year is collected. Most waste is dumped without any regulation or oversight and several municipalities do not have a designated disposal site, leading to haphazard disposal of waste—often next to a river—further aggrevating the problem.

With urbanization rising, the costs of inaction are piling up and compromising people’s health and the environment. In most cases, the poor suffer the most from the resulting negative economic, environmental, and human health impacts.


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