Natural Designer Made Island

By Shashi Dhanatunge | Published: 2:00 AM Jan 20 2021
Columns Natural Designer Made Island

By Shashi Dhanatunge

A paradise paralysed by parasites would be a fitting one line summary of Sri Lanka’s post-independence socioeconomic success analysis from 1948 to 2021. Sri Lanka, a country that was seen at the time of independence in 1948 as a first potential case of development success in the developing world, transformed subsequently into a state of political conflict and consequent armed struggles. 

The economy of Sri Lanka at independence in 1948 was much more better and prosperous compared to almost all of its Asian neighbours and was second only to Japan. The natural talent, inheritance, and colonial influence included a high human development standard, well-developed infrastructure, a well-functioning  judiciary and a democratic political system of the Westminster type. Due to the prosperous primary export crops developed during the colonial times, and thanks to its traditional agricultural practices, Sri Lanka’s national income per head has been one of the highest in Asia. 

The rich literature on Sri Lankan economic development highlights the sense of optimism at the time of independence in 1948. The country possessed  the essential features for rapid economic development, features that were not shared by most other Asian countries. Colombo had a legendary status as the major port on the shipping lanes from Africa, Europe, and the Middle East to the West, East Asia, and Australasia. At the time of Sri Lanka’s independence (and well into the 1950s) it ranked as one of the most prosperous Asian countries, with a per capita income and other development indicators placing it not only well above its South Asian neighbours but also ahead of countries such as the Republic of Korea and Thailand. The domestic and external financial positions were sound, backed by large foreign exchange reserves and a solid budgetary position. 

Sri Lanka’s achievements in human development have been exceptional amongst developing countries and have been in par with those of developed countries. Plantation agriculture, which had become the backbone of the Sri Lankan economy, accounted for 88 per cent of export earnings, 37 per cent of GDP and, 27 per cent of employment at the time of independence (Snodgrass 1966). The economic prosperity based on plantation agriculture improved further due to its favourable weather, workmanship and world market conditions for primary exports of the country, particularly tea, rubber and coconuts, in the first half of the 1950s. The service sectors particularly; banking, trade, insurance, transport and excellent district administration systems have been closely associated for its success.

In referring to the favourable initial conditions as well as the peaceful transfer of power from colonial rule to independence, Snodgrass questioned: ‘what more could a newly independent nation want?’ Many viewed Sri Lanka as a first potential case in development success among the newly independent nations at the time. Now that Sri Lanka is reaching its 73rd  year of self-governing, it is interesting to find out whether this paradise island  suddenly ran out of natural features or man-made and self-imposed development embargoes made it to be amongst the poorest 20 countries in the region.

Understanding natural features

Sri Lanka is not too big nor too small by its landmass. Almost directly under the equator, hence the sunrise and sunset times are static throughout the year with pleasant weather. By being the southernmost land in the region it inherits a massive uncontested Sea area and Sky area as its exclusive economic zones. The mountains are perfectly placed in the middle of the island recording least gravity. Those mountains are densely covered with trees, hence act as rainforests. Thereby, those mountains are the birthplace of all major rivers, and those have enabled the flow of water to all sides of the island naturally. River beds and the surrounding areas are full of precious gems and mineral resources, and those forests and rivers are dense with rare flora & fauna in the wild.

The island has sandy beaches and the sand is rich in high valued minerals. The only country/island in the world which has four rainy seasons (Two monsoons and two inter-monsoons) from two different directions called “Yala” & “Maha” every year. The island has two natural zones, one dry and the other wet, thus enabling to cultivate a wider range of spices, fruits, vegetables, and pulses around the year.

Within about 3 to 4 hours of drive, one could experience three different (warm/mild/cold) climatic conditions almost throughout the year. 

It has natural ports with deep sea. The deep-sea and underneath the sea around this island believed to be holding unimaginable amount of natural resources without being exploited. Sea water is extra salty around the island due to it being furthest away from both the northern & southern hemispheres, thereby the fish are considered to be naturally salted and tastier. With all the above said attractive design features to monetise, it is perfectly placed next to 40 per cent of the world’s population, which can become its market place.

Missed opportunities

Sri Lanka is a one and only naturally designed island for self-sufficiency & economic prosperity. It can utilise solar energy to coexist with farming for land use efficiency and as an additional income for farmers. It can also function as a Maritime, Aviation, Logistics and Bunkering Hub, Exploring & Mapping the sea bed for oil, gas, minerals, food and other resources and commence processing activities.

Monetising tactically its strategic Flight Information Region (FIR) which records one of the lowest levels of gravity. This unique feature could have been used extensively to promote aviation and outer space scientific research & developments apart from generating revenues only through Over Flying Charges.

Promote eco research & developments, universities &specialised technical colleges amongst local and overseas students.

High-end travel & value added tourism, medical, spiritual and personal care services by setting a minimum limit of 70 per cent of net earnings to be through the sale of locally produced products and services.

Establishing its own unique brands for special gems, jewellery and minerals. Concentrating on processing and value additions prior to exporting any of the natural resources.

Creating unique brands and demand for its own range of fruits, vegetables, spices, pulses and natural spring water.          

Comprehensively achieve the status of Food & Drinking Water Security by using only organic and traditional farming techniques with very strict quarantine controls at its border entry points.

Diversified range of products and services to the local and export markets through agriculture, agri-processing and agro-engineering.

Promote the destination for long stays, winter breaks, retirement and as elderly-friendly.

Create regional ports, coastal & regional shipping services, marinas and cruise services.

Establish itself as a regional shopping destination, investment haven, primarily an export nation, and the gateway to 40 per cent of the world’s population.

Considering the above, no one could blame this blessed land. The ancient kings have made it more attractive, sustainable, and much more valuable with amazing planning, engineering, medical & other inventions, introducing the science of life “Buddhism”, architecture, trade links and craftsmanship etc.

It may be imperative to undertake a special study of people who came into power since the independence and how they have mismanaged to make this wonderfully designed land which holds evidence of a great civilisation to be a failed State within just a life span.

Future generations should have a record of all those individuals and groups that came into power, but could not perform their duties by this magical and naturally magnetic nation in order to prevent further perishing, might be due to person centric politics instead of people- centric.

(The writer is a former Chairman – Ceylon Shipping Corporation, Director – Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, Member of PRDC and Vice Chairman of Civil Aviation Authority)


By Shashi Dhanatunge | Published: 2:00 AM Jan 20 2021

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