Former JVP terror districts continue in poverty

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By 2017-02-28

By Paneetha Ameresekere

Fourteen of Sri Lanka's 25 districts continued to be mired in poverty in January; while only, the remaining 11 districts were 'out of poverty', Census and Statistics Department (CSD) data showed. The bulk of those in poverty, some 12 districts, comprise of hotbeds of JVP terrorism, either in relation to the April 1971 insurrection or the July 1987 insurgency, or both. Those comprise the mainly agro based districts of Kandy, Galle, Matara, Hambantota, Ampara, Kurunegala, Puttalam, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Badulla, Moneragala and Ratnapura.

Kandy is the hill capital emanating from the Central Province; Galle Matara and Hambantota belong to the Southern Province; Ampara (Eastern Province); Kurunegala and Puttalam (Wayamba or North-Western Province), Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa (North Central Province), Badulla and Moneragala (Uva Province) and Ratnapura (Sabaragamuwa Province).

The other two districts in poverty were the former hotbeds of Tamil terrorism, namely Jaffna and Mullaitivu both located in the Northern Province. CSD's national poverty cut-off mark for January was Rs 4,207, per person, per month Rs 77 (1.86 per cent) more than the poverty cut- off point in December which was Rs 4,130 and Rs 246 (6.21 per cent) more than the poverty cut off point in January 2016 which was Rs 3,961.

The average monthly income per person, living in those poverty classified districts, in January 2017 were Kandy (Rs 4,200), Galle (Rs 4,068), Matara (Rs 4,042), Hambantota (Rs 3,875), Ampara (Rs 4,175), Kurunegala (Rs 4,065); Puttalam (Rs 4,203), Anuradhapura (Rs 3,981), Polonnaruwa (Rs 4,150), Badulla (Rs 4,033), Moneragala (Rs 3,823), Ratnapura (Rs 4,089), Jaffna (Rs 4,148) and Mullaitivu (Rs 4,161), CSD statistics showed. These districts were also poor throughout, last year.

2015 statistics were not immediately available. The closest of such statistics prior to 2016, which were immediately available being for the year 2006/07, where Kandy then, belonged to the 'out of poverty' list, so did Jaffna, Ampara, Puttalam and Polonnaruwa. In fact of the 22 districts accounted for in the 2006/07 Survey, the majority of the enumerated districts were 'out of poverty' then; unlike in the present scenario, where the majority of the island's districts are in poverty.

The probable reason for this state of affairs was that commodity prices led by oil were having a boom time in the period 2006/07, going up to 2008. This was despite the war. These would have had a soothing effect, especially on the export prices of Sri Lanka's plantation and other agro crops such as cinnamon, thereby, leading to a rise in income levels of those living in those afflicted districts, keeping them above the poverty levels.

However, nearly three years ago in 2014, commodity prices led by oil receded due to China, the world's second largest economy, changing course, from being an investment driven economy, by trying to shape itself to that of being a consumption driven one.

Collapse

However, that didn't work, leading to a collapse in global commodity prices, with a knock on effect of Sri Lanka's plantation crop and other agro export crop as well.

This downturn, which began round about the second half of 2014, continued throughout 2015 and to a greater part in 2016 as well, before making a comeback of sorts in the latter part of last year and still continuing, due to the recovery of the world's two largest economies, namely the USA and China, respectively. This may benefit Sri Lanka at least in the near term, seeing more districts coming out of poverty.

The other reason for the island's battle against poverty to be on the back foot, currently, is the devastating drought that has gripped the country in totality, almost the whole of last year, and continues to do so even now. This has ruined Sri Lanka's rice harvests and not least its tea and coconut crop as well, among other crops, driving the island's farmers to poverty.

Meanwhile, the 'out of poverty' districts in 2006/07, numbered 13 and 'in poverty', nine. Three districts, because of the war then, went unaccounted for. Those were Mannar, Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi.

The poverty cut off point in 2006/07 was Rs 2,142. Since then, the cut off mark has increased to Rs 4,207 at the present, an uplift of Rs 2,065 (96.41 per cent). This increase is due to inflation. The nine 'poverty' districts in 2006/07 were Matale (Rs 2,110), Galle (Rs 2,127), Matara (Rs 2,058), Hambantota (Rs 2,097), Kurunegala (Rs 2,106), Anuradhapura (Rs 2,099), Badulla (Rs 2,121), Moneragala (Rs 2,086) and Ratnapura (Rs 2,123).

In related developments, five of the eight former Tamil terrorist afflicted districts were 'out of poverty' last month. Those were Mannar (Rs 4,300), Kilinochchi (Rs 4,266), Batticaloa (Rs 4,259), Trincomalee (Rs 4,208) and Vavuniya (Rs 4,300). The related 'in poverty' districts vis-à-vis former Tamil terrorism troubled districts were Jaffna (Rs 4,148), Mullaitivu (Rs 4,161) and Ampara (Rs 4,175), making up the balance three of the eight former, Tamil terrorism afflicted districts in the island.

Mannar, Kilinochchi and Batticaloa were also 'out of poverty' for the totality of last year as well, on a monthly basis. Meanwhile, Mannar and Kilinochchi were, however, not captured in the 2006/07 survey due to the LTTE war. Nonetheless, even in 2006/07, Batticaloa was also 'out of poverty' with a figure of Rs 2,281, which was Rs 39 (1.82 per cent) more than the then 'poverty cut off' mark of Rs 2,142.

Trincomalee

In related developments, Trincomalee, which was 'out of poverty' at Rs 2,185 in 2006/07, i.e. a sum of Rs 43 (2.01%) more than the then poverty cut-off national figure of Rs 2,142, nonetheless stayed neutral (neither in poverty or out of poverty) in 10 of the 12 months last year, while being 'out of poverty' in the remainder, i.e. in April and August. In both of these months, similar to January 2017 (see below), it beat poverty by a mere one rupee!

Whereas the poverty cut-off mark in April was Rs 3,943, Trincomalee threw up a figure of Rs 3,944, 0.03 per cent more than the official poverty cut-off figure for that month. Similarly, in August, whereas the national poverty cut-off figure was Rs 4,063; Trincomalee threw up a number of Rs 4,064, (0.02 per cent) more than the then official poverty cut-off figure of Rs 4,063.

Meanwhile, the 11, 'out of poverty districts' last month (January 2017) were Colombo (Rs 4,374), Gampaha (Rs 4,368), Kalutara (Rs 4,259), Matale (Rs 4,226), Nuwara Eliya (Rs 4,224), Mannar (Rs 4,300), Kilinochchi (Rs 4,266), Batticaloa (Rs 4,259), Trincomalee (Rs 4,208), Vavuniya (Rs 4,300) and Kegalle (Rs 4,248). Those, with the exception of Trincomalee, also continued to remain out of poverty; throughout the 12 months of last year as well.

In 2006/07, with the exception of Matale which was 'in poverty' then, and Mannar and Kilinochchi which were not captured in that survey , those balance eight districts in question, namely Colombo, Gampaha, Kalutara, Nuwara Eliya, Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Vavuniya and Kegalle were also 'out of poverty' in 2006/07. Trincomalee, the de facto capital of Tamil Eelam, for the most part of last year, was neutral (neither poor nor 'out of poverty'), but, having the seemingly dubious distinction of passing the neutral line to be 'out of poverty' by a mere rupee (0.02 per cent), last month!

In the 2006/07 survey, the average daily income per person per month in the 13 'out of poverty' districts according to CSD were Colombo (Rs 2,294), Gampaha (Rs 2,230), Kalutara (Rs 2,223), Kandy (Rs 2,157), Nuwara Eliya (Rs 2,187), Jaffna (Rs 2,303), Vavuniya (Rs 2,211), Batticaloa (Rs 2,281), Ampara (Rs 2,185), Trincomalee (Rs 2,253), Puttalam (Rs 2,159), Polonnaruwa and Kegalle (Rs 2,144 each).

Meanwhile, in January 2017, Colombo headed the 'out of the poverty line' figure by an amount of Rs 167 (3.97 per cent). It was followed, in descending order by Gampaha Rs 161 (3.83 per cent), Mannar and Vavuniya Rs 93 each (2.21 per cent), Kilinochchi Rs 59 (1.41 per cent), Kalutara and Batticaloa Rs 52 each (1.24 per cent), Kegalle Rs 41 (0.97 per cent), Matale Rs 19 (0.45 per cent), Nuwara Eliya Rs 17 (0.4 per cent) and Trincomalee Rs 1 (0.02 per cent).

Of the 14 districts in poverty last month, the largest disparity suffered was Moneragala with Rs 384 (9.13 per cent)-behind the poverty cut-off point of Rs 4,207. It was followed by Hambantota, the stronghold of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa Rs 332 (7.89 per cent), Anuradhapura Rs 226 (5.37 per cent), Badulla Rs 174 (4.14 per cent), Matara Rs 165 (3.92 per cent), Kurunegala Rs 142 (3.38 per cent), Galle Rs 139 (3.3 per cent), Ratnapura Rs 118 (2.89 per cent), Jaffna Rs 59 (1.4 per cent), Polonnaruwa Rs 57 (1.35 per cent), Mullaitivu Rs 46 (1.09 per cent), Ampara Rs 32 (0.77 per cent), Kandy Rs 7 (0.17 per cent) and Puttalam Rs 4 (0.095 per cent).

Whereas, the 14 poverty stricken districts last month (January) were between the values of a minimum of Rs 4 and a maximum of Rs 384 (0.095 per cent-9.13 per cent) below the national poverty cut-off figure of Rs 4,207, the 11 'out of poverty districts were by a minimum Rs 1 and by a maximum of Rs 167 ( 0.02-3.97 per cent) above the poverty line.

Indication

This is an indication that it's easier for an 'out of poverty' district to slip into poverty, rather than for a 'poverty' district to get out of poverty. Perhaps, in a way, the current depreciative pressure bearing upon the rupee due to foreign exits from the government securities market may not be that bad after all in the government's battle against poverty.

This is because that phenomenon may lead to exporters getting more rupees for their US dollars and the trickle down benefits in such a scenario helping his agro workers too, to get more rupees in the form of increments and bonuses, thereby helping them to be uplifted from poverty.

The CSD said that the current district poverty lines are calculated using the spatial price index values calculated at district level using the Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES) 2012/13 data (as the base).

Islandwide, 25,319 housing units, were selected for the 2012/13 survey, of which 20,411 responded, comprising 20,540 households, it said. A household may have had comprised one or more persons.

Number of persons, including boarders and servants usually living in a household is the definition given for the household size.

According to the HIES 2012/13 survey, the mean household size in Sri Lanka was 3.9 persons per household in 2012/13.

Average monthly household expenditure for Sri Lanka was Rs 41,444, according to the 2012/13 HIES, said CSD. Of this value, Rs 15,651 was spent on food and drink, which is about 38 per cent of the total expenditure and defined as the food ratio. The non-food expenditure was Rs 25,793 (62.2 per cent), defined as non-food ratio.

The average per capita dietary energy consumption for Sri Lanka is 2,111 kilocalories per day in 2012/13. The corresponding figure for the poor was 1,530 kilocalories and for the non-poor, 2,153 kilocalories, said CSD.

Average, monthly food consumption pattern in Sri Lanka as per the HIES 2012/13: Rice (including samba, kekulu and nadu): 34.4 kg, wheat flour (2.2 kg), bread-normal (3.6 kg), Balaya fish (0.3 kg), chicken (0.3 kg), Kelawalla fish (0.3 kg), coconuts (28.3 nuts), big onions (2.4 kg), red (Mysore) dhal (2.2 kg), milk powder (1.3 kg) and sugar (4.3 kg).

Official Poverty Line (OPL), which was established in 2004 was Rs 1,423 (real total expenditure per person per month) is updated for the inflation of prices through the Colombo Consumer Price Index (CCPI) calculated monthly by the CSD, the Department further said. According to the average price index values, adjusted for HIES survey months, CSD publishes head count index for each survey periods, the Department said. The current value of OPL is Rs 3,624 per person per month for 2012/13, CSD said.

The poverty headcount in the review period was 6.7 per cent, it was stated.

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