SL one of world’s most rural societies – WB
By Paneetha Ameresekere
Sri Lanka is one of the most rural societies in South Asia and in the world, the World Bank (WB) said recently. The WB, in a publication titled ‘Sri Lanka Poverty Update’ further said Sri Lanka’s share of urban population being below 20 per cent is among the lowest in the South Asian region. It said according to the Census and Statistics Department’s (CSD’s) latest publication titled ‘Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES) 2016,’ only 17.4 per cent of Sri Lankans live in urban areas, while the majority of the population (78.1 per cent) live in rural areas.
By this estimate, Sri Lanka is one of the most rural societies in South Asia and in the world, the WB said. “But Sri Lanka also has sustained high gross domestic product (GDP) growth and a per capita GDP that is the second highest in the South Asia region,” the WB said. Therefore, Sri Lanka’s low urbanisation rate thus appears puzzling, given that economic growth is usually accompanied by rural to urban migration, it said.
In fact, the urbanisation rate in Sri Lanka is likely underestimated because the official classification of sectors relies on administrative boundaries. “That is, municipal councils, urban councils and town councils are defined as urban areas,” the WB said. Plantations with 20 acres or more and 10 or more resident labourers are defined as part of the estate sector, according to the HIES classification and all other areas are classified as rural, it said. Nonetheless, such an approach misses urbanisation that occurs “outside” administrative areas that would otherwise be classified as urban, the WB opined.
“Indeed, an analysis of satellite data shows urban and semi-urban areas extending beyond the official administrative boundaries that determine urban areas in Sri Lanka,” it said. While the official estimate of the population of the nine provincial capitals was 1.5 million in 2017, satellite imagery put the estimate at 7.4 million, the WB further said. Analysis of historical satellite data also reveals that urban population expanded at an average annual rate of 6.4 per cent over the period 1995–2017.
Recent studies by organisations such as UN-Habitat put Sri Lanka’s urbanisation rate at between 35 per cent and 45 per cent (UN-Habitat 2018), it said. While there is not a single standard for the classification of geographical areas, a revision of the definition to better reflect the actual functions of towns would improve understanding of population settlement and migration patterns as well as local and regional development issues, the WB said.