Government and Politics in South Asia

By Craig Baxter; Yogendra K. Malik et al. | Go to book overview

23
The Search for Prosperity

AS SERIOUS AS THEY ARE, Sri Lanka's economic problems have been overshadowed by the ethnic conflict between the Tamils and Sinhalese and the second JVP insurrection. In the summer of 1984 the country entered a period of open warfare between the Tamil guerrilla fighters and the government. The Jaffna, Vavuniya, Mannar, Batticaloa, Ampara, and Trincomalee districts became a battleground, with almost daily clashes between the Tamil guerrillas and the Sinhalese soldiers, and the conflict has continued since that time.

Because of the war Sri Lanka's economic needs have been neglected by recent Sri Lankan governments. Sri Lanka remains a low-income country. Its 1995 per capita income was US$700 per year. Although this is still low, GNP per capita has been growing at a rate of 2.6 percent per year since the mid-1980s, which compares favorably with the rate of -0.7 percent per year for all other low-income countries and a rate of 0.2 percent per year for middle-income countries. 1 This strong growth has been complemented by very high measures of the quality of life. As already mentioned, life expectancy is high and infant mortality, at 16 deaths per 1,000 births, is low. 2 This standard of living is also aided by very high standards of education.

The search for economic development has been a difficult one for Sri Lanka. The high standards of living were obtained by a series of programs begun by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike in the 1950s that provided every Sri Lankan with a minimal measure of food and free health care. These programs were expensive and ultimately were discarded in favor of programs aimed at increasing the productive capacity of the population rather than improving the quality of life of the citizens.

The conflict that Sri Lanka has faced since the 1970s is closely tied to the economic problems the country is facing. The alienation and anger of the Tamil youths is fostered by the economic stagnation of the Tamil areas, and the JVP insurrections of 1971 and 1987-1990 reflect the discontent of the Sinhalese youths. Both insurrections relied on the large number of educated and unemployed youths who were produced by the Sri Lankan

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