By Godfrey Gunatilleke

  1. Introduction

The main purpose of this paper is to examine Sri Lanka’s long-term prospects for human development over the next two decades.   The sources of data used for this exercise are those made available in the Human Development Report (HDR) – in particular, the latest Human Development Report for 2014.  Sri Lanka’s future possibilities are assessed in terms of the framework used in the HDR  which classifies the countries under four categories – low, medium, high,and very high human development .

The term “ human development”  as has been conceptualised  in the HDR is  a  state of well-being  in which  economic development   plays a part but is not the sole or  dominant   determinant  of well-being .  In human development , economic development  is only one  of three essential fundamentals of development,  the other two being  good  health  and educational attainment of the population. Each of these  have equal  weight  in the total  outcome of development  In the HDR , the state of human development of a country are measured  and ranked in terms of these three basic indicators on a scale of  0 to 1 . It is this analytical framework  on which the paper  draws.

The category of very high human development  (VVHD) includes  49 countries with a human development score over 0.800 , These countries enjoy a  PPP $  per capita income in  a range  between 17297 ( Argentina ) and 119,029 (Qatar)  , life expectancies   averaging  80 years  and  a span of  schooling  of approximately  16years .  In comparison,  Sri Lanka enjoyed a per capita income of PPP $ 9250 in 2013  and was ranked at a mid-point among the 52 countries in the second category – “high human development”. This  category included all countries with a score between 0.800 and 0,700 on the Human Development Index in which Sri Lanka has a score of 0.750. In 2015 Sri Lanka is estimated to have a per capita income of PPP dollars 10,400.

Sri Lanka’s  economic performance in the last two decades places it among the fastest growing economies in the world. It achieved an annual average growth rate of 5.3 % during the period 1990 to 2000, 5.6% during 2000-2010  and 7.0% for the most recent period 2010-2014. Only two countries in the category of high human development as classified in the UNDP human development report for 2013  have a record of sustained growth of over 5% per annum during the entire period of 23 years. If we assume that Sri Lanka would be able to make the corrective policy adjustments that are needed to deal with the emerging macroeconomic problems, the country should be capable of sustaining high rates of growth in the next two decades which would be in the region of 7% . Consequently it should be able to reach  the lower rungs  of  VVHD by 2025  and progress to higher levels of VHHD  by 2035. While the paper discusses briefly the country’s potential for high growth in a later section of the paper, the main purpose of the paper is not an analysis of the country’s capacity for such a rate of growth. Its main focus is on the state of “very high human development” that it is capable of achieving in the year 2025 and 2035, assuming that it is successful in continuing to grow at current rates. On the basis of these assumptions  the   paper raises the following issues:

  • Apart from the three main indicators – life expectancy education and income that constitute the Human Development Index,  what  are the fundamentals that are intrinsic to the state of very high human development and how are they manifested in the countries that are now in the category of “very high human development”?
  • Where does Sri Lanka stand in relation to these fundamentals?
  • What are the choices and options that are available for the growth path that Sri Lanka takes in the next two decades? Of the choices that are available what are the most desirable?

To find answers to these questions we need to examine the initial conditions from which Sri Lanka starts its journey and the distances that separate it from the levels of well being and the indicators that have been achieved by the countries which are now in the category of very high human development.

This paper is therefore an effort to delineate the states of human development Sri Lanka might be able to reach by 2025 and 2035. Thereafter it attempts to identify the fundamentals or prerequisites that must invariably go together with VHHD and then points to the options that are available. In this process it attempts to engage in a disciplined task of “imagining” Sri Lanka as it would /could be  at these two levels and the quality of life the people would enjoy in those stages. It argues that Sri Lanka has the opportunity to evolve a model of development that offers a better mix of the state and market and can be better equipped to deal with the global challenges of over-consumption, ecological threats such as global warming, and the dissonance between material and spiritual needs.

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