Environment in Sri Lanka Essay

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Forming a teardrop island at the southernmost tip of south Asia, Sri Lanka has long been at the crossroads of religious, cultural, and colonial history. The population of 20,064,776 is more than 69 percent Buddhist. As Ceylon, the country achieved independence in 1948 from the British, who had taken over from the Dutch, who had superseded the Portuguese. In 1972 Ceylon officially became Sri Lanka. Ethnic tensions between the Sinhalese and the Tamil led to war in 1983 and to the deaths of tens of thousands of Sri Lankans. Approximately 200,000 Tamils emigrated to Western nations, and several thousand Sri Lankans sought refuge in other Asian nations. Under the leadership of Norway, a cease fire was negotiated in February 2002.

Bordering the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka has an 831-mile (1,340-kilometer) coastline. The tropical monsoon climate produces a northeastern monsoon season that lasts from December to March, which is followed by the southwestern monsoon season that occurs between June and October. The mountains of Sri Lanka are confined to the south central area, with the flat terrain of the remaining area giving way to rolling plains. Sri Lanka experiences infrequent cyclones and tornadoes.

Sri Lanka was devastated by the tsunami of December 2004. Around 31,000 people died and another 6,300 were missing after this debilitating disaster. Another 443,000 people were displaced, and property damage was estimated at $1.5 billion. Of all the nations affected by the tsunami, Sri Lanka has been the slowest to rebuild. Consequently, some 250,000 of the poorest Sri Lankans continue to live in temporary refugee camps, and the infrastructure, including schools and medical facilities, is woefully inadequate to support the population. Poverty rates have dramatically increased among those who suffered the most severe losses, with residents of one village experiencing a 94 percent drop in personal income. The United Nations (UN) estimates that one in three people in seriously affected areas are living below the national poverty line of $14 a month. While only 9 percent of the population lack access to improved sanitation, 22 percent of the people do not have sustained access to safe drinking water. Overall, the UN Development Programme Human Development Reports rank Sri Lanka 93rd of 232 countries in quality-of-life issues.

There is great economic inequality in Sri Lanka, with the top 10 percent of the population holding 28 percent of the country’s wealth. The per capita income of $4,300 places Sri Lanka 142nd in world incomes. Natural resources include limestone, graphite, mineral sands, gems, phosphates, clay, and hydropower. Despite the fact that less than 14 percent of Sri Lankan land is arable, 38 percent of the people are engaged in the agricultural sector. Since the late 1970s, the government has concentrated on promoting the export trade, which has grown to include food processing, textiles and apparel, food and beverages, telecommunications, and insurance and banking. Amounting to some $1 billion per year, remittances from the 800,000 Sri Lankans who work abroad, chiefly in Middle Eastern nations, are essential to the Sri Lankan economy.

Environmentally, Sri Lanka suffers from deforestation and soil erosion. With approximately 19 percent of the area currently forested, Sri Lanka is losing some 1.5 percent of its forests annually. The mangrove forests, for instance, have been severely damaged by mining and siltation. Industrial wastes and sewage runoff have led to severe pollution of freshwater resources. The salt intrusion that was a by-product of the 2004 tsunami continues to render agricultural land and water wells unusable. In the heavily industrialized city of Colombo, air pollution poses a major threat to general health and the environment.

In 2006, scientists at Yale University ranked Sri Lanka 67th of 132 nations on environmental performance, below the relevant income group but above the relevant geographic group. The lowest scores were assigned in the areas of air quality and biodiversity and habitat. Although the government has protected 13.5 percent of land area, poaching and urbanization have seriously endangered biodiversity. Of 88 endemic mammal species, 22 are endangered. Likewise, 14 of 126 bird endemic bird species are threatened.

The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources has been charged with the promotion of sustainable development and conservation efforts in Sri Lanka through policy implementation and enforcement. In addition to the current six-year development plan for sustainable use of renewable resources, current environmental policy initiatives include the National Environmental Policy, the National Forestry Policy, the Forest Sector Master Plan, and the Biodiversity Conservation Plan. The Sri Lankan government has committed to the promotion of global responsibility by participating in the following environmental agreements: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Kyoto Protocol, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, and Wetlands. The Marine Life Conservation agreement has been signed but not ratified.


  1. Central Intelligence Agency, “Sri Lanka,” The World Factbook, www.cia.gov;
  2. Timothy Doyle, Environmental Movements in Minority and Majority Worlds: A Global Perspective (Rutgers University Press, 2005);
  3. Kevin Hillstrom and Laurie Collier Hillstrom, Asia: A Continental Overview of Environmental Issues (ABC-CLIO, 2003);
  4. Michael Howard, Asia’s Environmental Crisis (Westview, 1993);
  5. United Nations Development Programme in Sri Lanka, http://www.lk.undp.org/.

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