Socio-economy: GSP+, tourism, anti-poverty drivers
By Paneetha Ameresekere
On Friday this newspaper published the latest districtwise poverty statistics released by the Census and Statistics Department (CSD).
It showed that the majority of the country's 25 districts numbering 14 and comprising 56% of the island's total districts continued to remain in poverty for at least 17 continuous months upto last month, since CSD started releasing such monthly data in January 2016.
With CSD upping the poverty cutoff mark by Rs 42 (0.99%) to Rs 4,284 per mensem, per person, last month over April, probably due to inflation, the 14 poverty stricken districts which continued unchanged for the past 17 months were Kandy with an average monthly expenditure per person at Rs 4,276, ie Rs eight (0.19%) below the poverty cutoff mark of Rs 4,284; Galle-Rs 4,141, Rs 143 (3.34%) below the poverty cutoff mark of Rs 4,284 for last month;
Matara-Rs 4,115, Rs 169 (3.94%) below the poverty cutoff mark of Rs 4,284; Hambantota-Rs 3,945-Rs 339 (7.91%) below the poverty cutoff mark of Rs 4,284; Ampara-Rs 4,251, Rs 33 (0.77%) below the poverty cutoff mark of Rs 4,284; Kurunegala-Rs 4,138, Rs 146 (3.53%) below the poverty cutoff mark of Rs 4,284; Puttalam-Rs 4,279, Rs 5 (0.12%) below the Rs 4,284 poverty cutoff mark;
Anuradhapura-Rs 4,053, Rs 231 (5.39%) below the Rs 4,284 poverty cutoff mark; Polonnaruwa-Rs 4,225, Rs 59 (1.38%) below the Rs 4,284 poverty cutoff mark; Badulla-Rs 4,106, Rs 178 (4.15%) below the Rs 4,284 poverty cutoff mark; Monaragala-Rs 3,893, Rs 391 (9.13%) below the Rs 4,284 poverty cutoff mark; Ratnapura-Rs 4,163, Rs 121 (2.82%) below the Rs 4,284 poverty cutoff mark; Jaffna-Rs 4,223, Rs 61 (1.42%) below the Rs 4,284 poverty cutoff mark and Mullaitivu-Rs 4,237, Rs 47 (1.1%) below last month's Rs 4,284 poverty cutoff mark .
Therefore, it may be seen, that these 14 districts in poverty, were short by a minimum of 0.12% (Rs 5), ie Puttalam, to a maximum of 9.13% (Rs 391)-Monaragala to at least stay neutral (Rs 4,284), ie neither poor or out of poverty. It may also be seen that the gap between the greatest poverty and the 'least poverty' districts, ie between Moneragala and Puttalam in percentage parlance was 7,508.33% or 9.01% percentage points, while this gap in absolute terms was Rs 296 (5,920%). For this purpose the numerator is taken as the relevant data applicable to Puttalam and the denominator, to Monaragala.
These 14 districts constitute 55.11% of the island's total population, or 11,686,000 souls, according to CSD's last year's population estimates. CSD estimated the island's total population as at last year to have had been 21,203,000 souls.
Meanwhile, of the remaining 11 districts, 10 were 'out of poverty' while Trincomalee with a score of Rs 4,284, remained neutral for the third consecutive month. CSD estimated Trincomalee's population to be 404,000 or 1.91% of the country's total population as at last year end.
The 10 'out of poverty' districts which had also maintained this status quo for the past 17 months were Colombo-Rs 4,453, 3.94% (Rs 169) above last month's Rs 4,284 poverty cutoff point; Gampaha-Rs 4,447, 3.8% (Rs 163) above the Rs 4,284 poverty cutoff point; Kalutara-Rs 4,336, 1.21% (Rs 52) above the Rs 4,284 poverty cutoff point; Matale-Rs 4,302, 0.42% (Rs 18) above the Rs 4,284 poverty cutoff point; Nuwara Eliya-Rs 4,321, 0.86% (Rs 37) above the Rs 4,284 poverty cutoff point; Mannar-Rs 4,424, 3.27% (Rs 140) above last month's Rs 4,284 poverty cutoff point; Vavuniya-Rs 4,378, 2.19% (Rs 94) above the Rs 4,284 poverty cutoff point; Kilinochchi-Rs 4,343, 1.38% (Rs 59) above the Rs 4,284 poverty cutoff point; Batticaloa-Rs 4,336, 1.2% (Rs 52) above the Rs 4,284 poverty cutoff point and Kegalle-Rs 4,325, 0.96% (Rs 41) above the Rs 4,284 poverty cutoff point.
Therefore, it may be seen that of the 10 'out of poverty' districts, their 'out of poverty' range comprised a minimum uplift from the Rs 4,284 poverty cutoff point of last month equivalent to 0.42% (Rs 18), ie in the case of Matale and a maximum of 3.94% (Rs 169) in the case of Colombo.
It also may be seen that the gap between the greatest 'out of poverty' district and the least 'out of poverty district, ie between Colombo and Matale in percentage parlance was 838.1% (3.52 percentage points) last month, while in absolute terms it was Rs 151 (838.89%). For this purpose, vis-à-vis the computation of the relevant data, the numerator is taken as data applicable to Colombo and the denominator, to Matale.
With the gap between the 'least poverty' district and the 'greatest poverty' district, ie between Puttalam and Monaragala being 7,508.33% and those between 'least out of poverty' and the 'greatest out of poverty' districts, ie between Matale and Colombo being 838.89%, it may be interpreted that there is a greater chance for the 'poverty districts' to remain in poverty, while those 10 'out of poverty' districts may be able to maintain their status quo, though their internal margin may not be as great as those in the 'poverty districts' vis-à-vis the difference between the 'least poverty' district and the 'greatest poverty' district.
The 10 'out of poverty districts' constituted 42.98% or 9,113,000 of the island's total population of 21,203,000 as at last year end, according to CSD.
CSD began dishing out these monthly poverty statistics starting 17 months ago, from January 2016. At that time the poverty cutoff point was Rs 3,961 per person, per mensem. But with inflation creeping up since, the poverty cutoff mark has been increased by Rs 323 (7.54%) to stand at Rs 4,284 as at last month end.
At that time those 14 'poverty' districts, namely Kandy, Galle, Matara, Hambantota, Jaffna, Mullaitivu, Ampara, Kurunegala, Puttalam, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Badulla, Monaragala and Ratnapura had thrown up figures of Kandy (Rs 3,954)-Rs 7 (0.18%) below the official poverty cutoff point of Rs 3,961 then; Galle (Rs 3,829)-Rs 132 (3.33%) below the official poverty cutoff point of Rs 3,961 then;
Matara (Rs 3,805)-Rs 156 (3.94%) below the official poverty cutoff point of Rs 3,961 then; Hambantota (Rs 3,648)-Rs 313 (7.9%) below the official poverty cutoff point of Rs 3,961 then; Jaffna (Rs 3,905)-Rs 56 (1.41%) below the official poverty cutoff point of Rs 3,961 then; Mullaitivu (3,917)-Rs 44 (1.11%) below the official poverty cutoff point of Rs 3,961 then; Ampara (Rs 3,930)-Rs 31 (0.78%) below the official poverty cutoff point of Rs 3,961 then;
Kurunegala (Rs 3,826)-Rs 135 (3.41%) below the official poverty cutoff point of Rs 3,961 then; Puttalam (Rs 3,956)-Rs 5 (0.13%) below the official poverty cutoff point of Rs 3,961 then; Anuradhapura (Rs 3,747)-Rs 214 (5.4%) below the official poverty cutoff point of Rs 3,961 then;
Polonnaruwa (Rs 3,906)-Rs 51 (1.29%) below the official poverty cutoff point of Rs 3,961 then; Badulla (Rs 3,796)-Rs 165 (4.17%) below the official poverty cutoff point of Rs 3,961 then; Monaragala (Rs 3,599)-Rs 362 (9.14%) below the official poverty cutoff point of Rs 3,961 then and Ratnapura (Rs 3,849)-Rs 112 (2.83%) below the official poverty cutoff point of Rs 3,961 then.
It may therefore be seen that in January 2016, the 'greatest poverty' district was Monaragala, with a gap of Rs 362 (9.14%) to be bridged to stay at least neutral (neither poor nor 'out of poverty'), while the 'least poverty' district was Puttalam, a gap of Rs 5 (0.13%) to be bridged to be neutral.
Sixteen months down the line to last month, this status quo hadn't changed, with these 14 districts continuing to be mired in poverty, with the two extremities this time too occupied by those two selfsame districts, with Puttalam this time too short by Rs 5 to be 'neutral', though in percentage terms it has marginally fallen to 0.12%, while at the other end of the pole was Monaragala, this time being short by Rs 391 (9.13%) to stay at least neutral.
In summation it may be deduced, that the Government of Sri Lanka's (GoSL's) fight against poverty in these 17 months to last month has remained a stalemate, since this regime, transparently tried to map out the country's districtwise poverty status quo on a monthly basis.
These poverty stigmatized districts are essentially agrarian and Agriculture, since the fall in commodity prices led by oil from about the middle of 2014 or thereabouts has in tandem with these development also taken a hit.
For instance, according to CSD's latest GDP statistics, though the economy per se in the first quarter (1Q) ended March grew by 3.2%, the Agriculture Sector suffered a retardation of 3.2%.
Similarly, though the economy grew by 4.4% last year, the Agriculture Sector retarded by 4.2%.
Not only falling commodity prices, which, however has since picked up, the vagaries of the weather also impinges on the Agriculture Sector. The drought of last year, which continues in certain parts of the country, not least the North Central Province encompassing the poverty stricken districts of Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura predominated by rice cultivation and also affecting at least the Northern Province where too the rice economy plays a major role, which economy however is largely buttressed by remittances, has the dubious distinction of helping to keep the poverty flag flying in those 14 poverty stricken districts of the country for at least 17 continuous months to last month.
What therefore is needed is to wean away the populace from the low cost Agriculture Sector to the more rewarding Industry and Services sectors, for which the regaining of the GSP + also last month and the growth in the tourism sector would be the key anti-poverty drivers in the economy, going forward. Remittances, especially remittances from the Middle East may not be sustainable due to the current political instability prevailing in that region.
Meanwhile, in January 2016, Trincomalee, like last month was neutral, showing a per mensem per person expenditure of Rs 3,961; in tandem with the then poverty cutoff point of Rs 3,961.
The 10 'out of poverty' districts, Colombo scored Rs 4,117-Rs 156 (3.94%) more than the then poverty cutoff expenditure value of Rs 3,961; Gampaha (Rs 4,112)-Rs 151 (3.81%) more than the then poverty cutoff expenditure value of Rs 3,961; Kalutara (Rs 4,009)-Rs 48 (1.21%) more than the then poverty cutoff expenditure value of Rs 3,961;
Matale (Rs 3,978)-Rs 17 (0.43%) more than the then poverty cutoff expenditure value of Rs 3,961; Nuwara-Eliya (Rs 3,995)-Rs 34 (0.86%) more than the then poverty cutoff expenditure value of Rs 3,961; Mannar (Rs 4,091)-Rs 130 (3.28%) more than the then poverty cutoff expenditure value of Rs 3,961; Vavuniya (Rs 4,047)-Rs 86 (2.17%) more than the then poverty cutoff expenditure value of Rs 3,961; Kilinochchi (Rs 4,016)-Rs 55 (1.39%) more than the then poverty cutoff expenditure value of Rs 3,961; Batticaloa (Rs 4,009)-Rs 48 (1.21%) more than the then poverty cutoff expenditure value of Rs 3,961 and Kegalle (Rs 3,999)-Rs 38 (0.96%) more than the then poverty cutoff expenditure value of Rs 3,961.
It may be seen that the two ends of the 'out of poverty' spectrum 17 months ago were occupied by Matale, 0.43% (Rs 17) above the then official poverty line of Rs 3,961 and Colombo, 3.94% (Rs 156) more than the then official poverty cutoff point of Rs 3,961.
Going forward, 16 months later to last month, the two ends of the spectrum vis-à-vis the 'out of poverty' districts were once more occupied by Matale 0.42% (Rs 18) more than last month's poverty cutoff point of Rs 4,284 and Colombo, 3.94% (Rs 169) more than last month's Rs 4,284 poverty cutoff point respectively, recording negligible changes over the status quo that prevailed in January 2016.
The message is that the GoSL needs to do much more in its battle against poverty if it is to make sustainable gains. Those include attracting greater investments and higher exports.
Poverty or being poor is defined by the CSD as the lack of access to basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education, etc. The poverty line specifies the minimum standard of living condition in the society to which everybody should be entitled. A person is identified as poor if he or she cannot enjoy this minimum condition. Thus the poverty line is the threshold line that identifies who the poor are and is the starting point of poverty analysis, it said.
Using electricity for lighting, safe drinking water and availability of water seal sanitation are some factors associated with better living conditions in Sri Lanka, said CSD. It also said that in its definition of poverty, the proportion of expenditure on food and drink (non alcoholic) to total expenditure is defined as the food ratio. A lower food ratio indicates better living conditions, said CSD.
The inability to meet or buy the required daily kilo calorie (DKC) consumption needed to stay healthy, as prescribed by the Medical Research Institute also classifies a person as being poor.
The prescribed DKC requirement for males range from 818 to infants under a year old and up to 1,771 for males 70 years and over and peaking to 2,530 for males between the ages of 20 to 39. In the case of females, the range is 818 for infants under a year- old to 1,330, for women who are 70 years and over, whilst peaking at 2,300 for females between the ages of 13 to 15 years of age.
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