Area: 65,610 sq km (25,332 sq miles).
Topography: Beyond the coastal plains, Sri Lanka’s topography is dominated by an outstandingly beautiful central mountain massif of gneiss rock, with the highest point at Pidurutalagala (2,524m). The holy Adam’s Peak (2,243m) is so called from a mark at the top in the likeness of a human footprint, variously attributed as the print of the Buddha, Vishnu or Adam, and is a place of pilgrimage. The coastal plains are broader in the north, tapering off in the long low-lying Jaffna peninsula. Several fast-flowing non-navigable rivers arise in the mountains. The Mahaweli Ganga, from which hydroelectric power is obtained, is the longest at 322km.
Climate: Tropical. The lowlands are always hot, particularly from March to May. The highlands are cooler. During December and January there is occasional frost on very high ground, e.g. at Nuwara Eliya. The dry season is March to mid-May. The south-west monsoon season lasts from mid-May to September, the north-east monsoon season from November to March.
Vegetation: About 29% of the land (approximately 1.9m ha) is cultivated. About 22% is forest. Vegetation is rich and luxuriant, with a great variety of flowers, trees, creepers and flowering shrubs. The flora of Sri Lanka were described by Linnaeus in 1747 from specimens collected by a fellow botanist. Among the many species of trees are the rubber tree, palm, acacia, margosa, satinwood, Ceylon oak, tamarind, ebony, coral tree and banyan. Flowers and shrubs include the orchid and rhododendron.
Wildlife: Nature reserves now cover 10% of the island. Wilpattu National Park in the north-west (813 sq km) is best known for leopards; Yala National Park in the south-east (112 sq km) is home to large elephant populations. Reduction of the natural tropical hardwood forest is, however, endangering several animal species.
towns: Colombo (2,026,000, mid-1993 est.), Dehiwala-Mt Lavinia, Moratuwa,
Kandy, Kotte, and Jaffna.
Religion: Chiefly Buddhism (69%). Other religions are Hinduism (15.5%), Islam (7.5%) and Christianity (7%).
Language: The official languages are Sinhala and Tamil. English is used in commerce and government and near-universally understood.
Education: Highly advanced for a country at Sri Lanka’s economic level. Education is free up to university level and compulsory to 14. Secondary school enrolment is around 74% of the relevant age group and higher education 5%; there are several universities. Adult literacy is 90% (1995), with male literacy at 93% and female at 87%. Some concern is currently expressed that education is not sufficiently vocational and efforts are being made to address the unemployment problem with vocational training.
Health: Both Western and Ayurvedic (traditional) medicine are practised; most doctors practise Western medicine. A free health service is available, with hospitals and clinics countrywide, supplemented by several private hospitals and clinics in Colombo. There is one doctor per 3,633 inhabitants. Over 90% of children are born in hospital. Family planning is common, with about 68% of married women practising contraception. About 90% of children are immunised against the common childhood illnesses. Polio has been eradicated, but malaria remains a problem. Leprosy and cholera are now very infrequent, but AIDS may be increasing.
Sri Lanka’s workforce has skills and training above the level
of a low-income country. Remuneration is low compared with the West.
These factors have encouraged export-oriented foreign investment. In
1996, 35% of the labour force worked in agriculture, about 15% in manufacturing,
and about 42% in service industries (Northern and Eastern provinces
excluded). The estimated labour force, in 1996, was about 6.3m, again
excluding the Northern and Eastern provinces. Many Sri Lankans work
abroad, chiefly in the Middle East. Unemployment was estimated at 16.5%
in 1992, easing to 11.3% in 1996.
Post: Sri Lanka has public postboxes and regular deliveries of mail. Air mail to Europe takes about one week.
Telephone IDD (code 94) reaches the main towns. Fax at hotels and GPO.
Telex at GPO and telegrams from any post office. Upgrading of the telecommunications
system took place in the early 90s, with a new international exchange
and digital earth satellite system installed in 1992, and further investment
is planned, possibly involving foreign participation.
Rail: There are rail links between the major towns, constituting about 1,453km of track. There are links from Colombo north (to Puttalam), north-west (Kankesanturai), west, despite the upland interior (Kandy/Matale and Badula) and south along the coast (Galle/Matara). There is also a link in the west between Trincomalee and Welikanda. A new track is being built between Matara and Walasgala (17km) and there are plans to electrify part of the track.
Sea: There are three deep-water harbours at Colombo, Galle and Trincomalee. A new container terminal is being completed at Colombo, which is a major transhipment centre in south Asia. Further port development projects at Colombo and Galle are imminent. Trincomalee, which has an excellent natural harbour, also offers potential for development.
Katunayake international airport, recently named the Bandaranaike airport,
is 32km (20 miles) from Colombo. A further international airport is
planned at Hingurakgoda. The larger domestic airports are at Ratmalana
(Colombo) in the south and Jaffna in the north. Air Lanka (UL), the
national carrier, is to be privatised.
Macro-Economics and Finance:
Unit of currency: Sri Lanka rupee (SLR) valued at SLRs61.15:US$1 on 5 December 1997. Since 1977, the rupee has shown a general gradual fall.
GNP: Sri Lanka is a low-income country by World Bank classification, although near the top of the low-income group. In 1996, per capita GNP was US$753. Total GNP in 1996 was $13,800m. Average yearly per capita GNP growth was 3.1% over the period 1985-96. Despite the damage to development caused by internal political conflict in recent years, Sri Lanka still has the world’s highest ranking for achieved quality of life above material quality – reaching 0.711 in the UN’s Human Development Index for 1997, over 40 places above its rank in purely GDP terms. The purchasing power of Sri Lankan incomes (ppp) is also proportionately higher. GDP for 1996 is estimated at SLRs743.5bn and growth over the year at 3.8%.
Overview: While agriculture is central
to Sri Lanka’s economy (accounting for a fifth of GDP), manufacturing
and services are of increasing importance, with exports of textiles
and clothing now well ahead of the traditional agricultural exports
as foreign exchange earners. A banking and financial services sector
is also developing. The former policies of nationalisation have been
superseded by an extensive liberalisation programme since 1989, which
has led to extensive privatisation of the formerly largely centralised
economy. Privatisations in various sectors – commercial and
agricultural enterprises, banking, transport services and utilities
– are underway. Six more tea plantations were to be privatised
Investment: Foreign investment is encouraged and tax concessions are available with the aim of stimulating growth in targeted areas, e.g. infrastructure, tourism and non-traditional manufacturing exports. Foreign investment is supervised by the Board of Investment of Sri Lanka (BOI). Four investment promotion zones have been created and two industrial parks are to be opened. BOI enterprises employed 241,970 people in 1996. Sri Lanka also has a stock exchange. Founded in 1896 and so one of the Commonwealth’s early share trading institutions, the Colombo Stock Exchange was opened to foreign investment in 1990.
Trade: Sri Lanka’s main exports are textiles and clothing, tea, cut diamonds, petroleum products, gems and rubber products. Its main imports are textiles (for the clothing industry), machinery and equipment, transport equipment, petroleum, building materials and sugar. Its main trading partners are the US, Britain and Germany (exports) and Japan, India, South Korea and Hong Kong (imports). Exports were valued at US$4,095m and imports at $5,412m in 1996.
Aid: Equivalent to about US$34 per head in 1996, as against India’s under $4 per head, but considerably lower than other island countries. The largest donors are the International Development Association, the Asian Development Bank and Japan. Project loans stood at US$425.3m in 1996, non-project loans at $42.1m.
External debt: Total external debt was US$7.9bn in 1996, nearly 83% of which was on concessional terms.
Currency restrictions: Local currency may be imported and exported to the value of SLRs1,000. Indian and Pakistani notes may not be imported. There is unrestricted import of other foreign currencies, but they must be declared. Export is limited to the amount imported.
affiliations: Sri Lanka was a founder member of the Colombo Plan for
Co-operative Economic and Social Development in Asia and the Pacific,
the world’s oldest regional co-operation organisation. It is
also a member of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation
(SAARC) and the South Asia Preferential Trade Agreement (SAPTA).
This has been an area of dynamic growth since the mid-1980s, dominated
by the clothing sector. In 1986, clothing overtook tea as the largest
single export earner. Four further manufacturing companies were due
to open in 1997. The domestic textile industry is as yet little used
by the clothing industry, which imports fabrics. Other manufactured
products are rubber and petroleum items, footwear, ceramics and soft
toys; there is also an electronics assembly sector. The diamond-cutting
industry, using imported diamonds, has been growing rapidly.
Tourism: Sri Lanka offers wide appeal to tourists, with its ancient culture and historic sites, scenic beauty in its forests and mountains, and a pleasant tropical climate and beaches. Ethnic conflict, however, has had an adverse effect on the industry, more than halving tourist arrivals in the late 1980s. Tourist arrivals numbered 302,265 in 1996, most of them from Western Europe, with an increasing proportion from other Asian countries. Tourist arrivals were increasing in 1997.
Sri Lanka has hydroelectric power but no coal or oil deposits, though
there may be petroleum reserves off the southern coast. Hydroelectric
power is generated chiefly from the Mahaweli Ganga which provides
approximately a third of the energy needs of industry. Hydro-generation
is being expanded with further plants and there are proposals for
micro-hydroelectric schemes. Imported oil, however, remains the main
source of commercial electricity. Two large thermal plants under construction
at Sapugaskanda and at Kelanitissa were to come onstream in 1997.
Meanwhile firewood, agricultural residues and animal waste provide
around 66% of total energy, mainly for domestic use.
Time: GMT plus 6hrs.
Electricity: 230/240 volts AC, 50Hz; round 2-pin plugs are used, bayonet-type lamp fittings.
Driving and local transport: Vehicles keep to the left. An international driving licence is acceptable, or temporary Sri Lankan licences are obtainable on showing a national licence. Transport in Sri Lanka is fairly good, with a crowded, country-wide network of buses. Taxis are metered. There are agencies for the hire of cars and air-conditioned minibuses. Chauffeur-driven cars are inexpensive and the service is good.
Office hours: 0900hr-1700hr, plus Sat am.
In the 16thC the Kotte Kingdom sought protection from new arrivals, the Portuguese; and in 1597 Dharmapala, last of the Kotte kings, bequeathed his throne to the King of Portugal. The Portuguese soon subdued the north and so acquired most of the coastal belt of the country, leaving the central region to the Kingdom of Kandy. From the mid-1630s, the King of Kandy helped the Dutch to dispossess the Portuguese; by 1656 the whole island had become a Dutch possession except for the Kingdom of Kandy. Later the Dutch also seized Kandy’s coastal areas, cutting the Kandyans off from the outside world. British interests developed in the late 18thC when a British army invaded and forced the Dutch to accept its protection. In 1802 the Dutch colony became a British possession. The Kingdom of Kandy was invaded in 1815 and its monarchy was abolished.
Thus the whole island came under British rule.
Plantations growing rubber, coconut and coffee were established in the 19thC. After the coffee plantations were destroyed by a fungus in the 1870s, planters successfully switched to tea. The country soon became the second largest producer of black tea after India. During this period, Indian Tamils were brought into the country as indentured labour for the tea estates.
Constitutional development of Ceylon (as the country was then called) began relatively early, with Executive and Legislative Councils set up in 1833, and the first opening up of the colonial civil service to Ceylonese. Full self-government was achieved in 1946, under a new constitution, with a bicameral legislature (which became a single chamber in 1972) and Ceylon became fully independent and joined the Commonwealth in 1948. The first Prime Minister of independent Ceylon was one of the leaders of the independence movement, DS Senanayake. He was the head of the United National Party (UNP, the former Ceylon National Congress supported by the Tamil Congress). After a split in the UNP in 1951, SWRD Bandaranaike formed the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).
In 1956 the SLFP won a decisive electoral victory. The new government, nationalist and non-aligned, immediately began talks with Britain which ended in the return to Ceylon of the Katunayake airfield and the Trincomalee naval base.
In September 1959, Bandaranaike was assassinated. After elections the following year, his widow, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, led the SLFP to victory and became the first woman Prime Minister in the world. In March 1965, the UNP was voted back to power with Dudley Senanayake (son of Sri Lanka’s first Prime Minister) as Prime Minister until 1970, when the elections returned the SLFP.
Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s new government introduced a new constitution in 1972. Sri Lanka, following the lead of India, became a Republic while remaining within the Commonwealth. Under the new constitution, the republic had a unicameral parliament, the National State Assembly, and a non-executive President. The first President was William Gopallawa, formerly Governor-General, and Sirimavo Bandaranaike remained Prime Minister.
Throughout this period, Ceylon’s government developed programmes of welfare and nationalisation. These led to marked improvements in health and literacy, but the economy began to decline. In 1971, there was a serious internal crisis with an uprising of Sinhalese youth, the Janatha Vimukti Peramuna (JVP), or People’s Liberation Front, in protest about widespread unemployment.
The government lost popularity and, at the general election in 1977, the UNP under JR Jayewardene won a sweeping victory. The UNP government encouraged the private sector and (under a new constitution in 1978) opted for a presidential form of government with proportional representation and renamed the country the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. The first Presidential election, held in 1982, was won by Jayewardene. In December 1982, the life of the 1977 Parliament was extended, by a national referendum, for six more years.
Several political assassinations aggravated the situation. In 1993 the leader of one of the main opposition groups, Lalith Athulathmudali, was shot; a week later President Premadasa was killed by a Tiger suicide bomber. In 1994 UNP presidential candidate and opposition leader Gamini Dissanayake was killed, with over 50 others, by a suicide bomber.
of Government: The President