Turning Sri Lanka’s Urban Vision into Policy and Action

December 2012, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The World Bank and UN-Habitat offices in Sri Lanka have jointly launched a policy note, “Turning Sri Lanka’s Urban Vision into Policy and Action”, aimed at supporting the Government of Sri Lanka achieve its Urban Vision as outlined in the national development policy framework – the Mahinda Chinthana. The policy document provides an initial assessment of Sri Lanka’s urban characteristics, outlining policy directions, and the challenges ahead for turning the urban vision into action.

The policy note highlights the value of immediate action, as the country evolves from a rural to an urban economy,  in order to develop a  system of competitive, environmentally sustainable, and well-linked cities, and to provide every urban family with affordable and adequate shelter by 2020.

The policy note strives to stimulate and facilitate evidence-based dialogue on Sri Lanka’s urban agenda, and to identify sector priority areas requiring  knowledge enhancement. An extensive participatory dialogue with sector partners, and existing knowledge bases have contributed towards this report; It is expected that continuous dialogue and knowledge growth will further enrich the policy note, thus resulting in a pragmatic “living document”.

Turning Sri Lanka’s Urban Vision into Policy and Action  delves in to the main economic drivers of Sri Lanka’s cities; themes of Sri Lanka’s Urban Vision  and discusses its economic rationale and viability; the key challenges;  recent government initiatives for implementing the Urban Vision, and their success; and  offers broad policy directions and priority actions.

Sri Lanka’s country vision, as defined in the government’s policy framework, is to become a global hub between the East and the West and an upper-middle income country by the year 2016.

The agglomeration economies driven high productivity of the Colombo Metropolitan Region is seen as one of Sri Lanka’s most valuable assets for achieving upper middle-income status. However the Colombo Metropolitan Region needs to become more competitive with other Asian cities through strengthening its most dynamic service sectors (information technology and financial services) and shifting from low to high-value added manufacturing. According to Mr. Diarietou Gaye, World Bank Country Director for Sri Lanka and the Maldives, “Achieving the Urban Vision will require enhancing the competitiveness of the Colombo Metropolitan Region, ensuring secondary urban centers develop sustainably to their full economic potential, and carrying out system-wide institutional and policy reforms to leverage the economic benefits of improved connectivity and urban infrastructure.”

Mr. Laxman Perera, Habitat Program Manager for Sri Lanka highlighted that Sri Lanka is “positively placed to ensure adequate and affordable shelter to urban dwellers, given its track record in providing basic services and expanding access to infrastructure to the under-served population” . Achieving this long-term vision rests on preventing informal settlements from forming – by developing a functioning housing market that meets the needs of all segments of the urban population.

“By creating a linked system of cities, Sri Lanka can tap into its diverse and resource-based competitive advantages, such as tourism, agro processing and fisheries” said Ms. Elisa Muzzini, Senior Economist for the South Asia Urban & Water Unit.