The population growth and urbanization attract much interest, but at the same time are major concerns that have a mutual nexus. As estimated, nearly four million people are living in urban areas in Sri Lanka today.
Researchers state that the figures are expected to grow up to 6.8 million by 2030. The national population is growing at the rate of 1.0 percent annually, whereas the urban population is growing at a higher rate of 3.0 percent, official statistics reveal. The current urban population is distributed throughout 134 cities and towns, 17 Municipal Councils and 38 Urban Councils. There are 52 cities with more than 50, 000 people living in each. The country’s urban population consists of 15 percent of the total. It will reach 30-35 percent by the year 2030 and over 50 percent by 2050, respectively.
Renowned Urban Sociologist at the University of Colombo Dr. Chandrasiri Niriella, during an interview with the Daily Mirror discussed about the current urbanization issue in Sri Lanka and its concerns. He further aired his views about Megapolis development plan and the Chinese-funded Port City project.
Dr. Niriella recently launched a book titled ‘Sociology of Housing and Sustainable Urban Development’. His research work has been based on urban studies particularly in cities, urban housing, urban neighbourhoods and ethnic harmony in Sri Lanka. Dr.Niriella authored the book, Urban Housing Policy in Sri Lanka(2010); Ethnic Strife and Urban Neighborhood Ties (2010); Urban Poor (2012); Sociological Study of City (2012); A Guide for Research Proposal Writing (2013); and, Urban Sociology(2014), and various research articles in urban studies.
‘Invisible City’ and the urban poor
An invisible city, defined by Urban Sociologist Niriella, refers to the people whom we walk pass everyday in cities and towns, but who often go unnoticed by many. It includes the urban poor, beggars, homeless people, prostitutes, the elderly, disabled people, alcoholics and drug addicts.
“Among tall buildings, vehicles and nicely dressed middle-class and capital-class people, the above mentioned people are paid little or no attention. I am concerned about them as to how they could be welcomed into the urbanization and all other social changes,” he said.
He noted that the ‘benefits’ received by urban elites, to exclude the poorest groups which he referred to as ‘invisible city’. He opined that the homeless in cities are living with many issues including very poor living conditions, high levels of overcrowding and deprivations (water, sanitation, health care, schools).
On the other hand, such people- who have no proper source of income- are always at a risk of eviction from their informal settlements or temporary camps, he said.
He stated that the problems of urban poverty are rooted due to inadequate Government policies and a poor state of planning for urban growth and management.
The major problem caused by population growth and urbanization is housing space. In fact, Sri Lanka is having a critical housing problem.
As statistics indicate, 51 percent of the Colombo’s total population still lives in slums. These places are known as shanties. On the other hand, housing complexes are mushrooming all over the country. It is reported that a considerable number of such condominiums don’t meet the required standards and the constructors ignore the social, environmental and geological matters pertaining to the expectant residents of those condominiums. At this rate, no doubt, the demand for houses and urban infrastructure is expanding rapidly with the population growth and urbanization.
Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa also introduced his plan Mahinda Chinthanaya in 2010. He vowed to develop the country as a fivefold centre in terms of navigation, aviation, knowledge, energy and commercial
According to a study carried by Dr. Niriella, the following are factors for migration of people to the condominiums.
(1) Opportunities are plentiful to enjoy the benefits of many facilities available because the city of Colombo is the main commercial and administration centre of Sri Lanka.
(2) Living in Colombo helps parents to admit their children to popular or leading schools
(3) Business opportunities are plentiful in Colombo, hence living there facilitates easy access to diverse kinds of businesses.
(4) Transport facilities are ready to reach the state and private sector places of employment.
(5) People find it easier and more profitable to buy a house in a housing complex instead of building a house.
(6) Land disputes, different kinds of private clashes and conflicts, abuse and insults identifiable as a common feature in a rural society are completely absent in a housing complex. This is because all houses in a housing complex are built according to approved plan on blocked out lend with a limited space.
Dr. Niriella pointed out that in such a background as discussed in the preceding pages, the increase of land prices in urban areas and the corresponding increase of prices of building material are phenomenally inevitable.
He said that there would be many environmental problems due to the gathering of large number of people in cities.
- He pointed out that in such a background as discussed in the preceding pages, the increase of land prices in urban areas and the corresponding increase of prices of building material are phenomenally inevitable.
- He added that there would be many environmental problems due to the gathering of a large number of people in cities.
Dr. Niriella, recalled the efforts made by several previous governments in order to launch urban development plans in the country.
“The Presidential Task Force appointed in 1998 by Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, to look into the urban issues, was also unsuccessful,” he said.
The national population is growing at the rate of 1.0 percent annually
The current urban population is distributed throughout 134 cities and towns, 17 Municipal Councils and 38 Urban Councils
The country’s urban population consists of 15 percent of the total
Since 2000, there had been a development plan, introduced by National Physical Planning Department. According to the plan, there had been five regions concerned which included Western metro, Southern metro, Eastern metro, North Central metro and Northern metro.
“Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa also introduced his plan Mahinda Chinthanaya in 2010. He vowed to develop the country as a fivefold centre in terms of navigation, aviation, knowledge, energy and commercial. We don’t know what happened to his plan after his defeat in his third re-electing attempt,” he said.
Dr.Niriella claimed that many development plans, projects and programmes done by professionals for many Government still remain as they had not been launched properly.
“Our politicians neglected the professionals’ opinions and worked according to their wishes and political agendas. Our politicians are not willing to listen to intellectuals like us.
“The lack of cooperation shown by Sri Lankan politicians when working with professionals in the country’s journey towards development, has created many problems to the people and the country,” he emphasized.
Asked his view about the current Government’s Megapolis plan, which is basically about three cities -including City of Information Technology in Malabe, City of Habour in Colombo and Industrial City in Katunayake- Dr.Niriella said that the project which is obviously a political programme would not be a success.
“My opinion is that if some politician wants to work for the country, he or she should bring all stakeholders together. Otherwise, it is merely a waste of time, money and labour. Further, the country needs a holistic development plan, not a micro level plan like Megapolis,”he opined.
Our politicians neglected the professionals’ opinions and worked according to their wishes and political agendas. Our politicians are not willing to listen to intellectuals like us
He underscored that in order to launch such a massive development plan, the country should have a strong Government, adding that there is no such Government at the moment.
Although it is good that both the main political parties have joined, what’s unfortunate is that there are many disputes and disparities among the leaders, he opined.
Asked whether the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development has ever sought his advice and instructions, he replied in the negative.
Underlining the importance of a research culture, he said that research on urban development in Sri Lanka is inadequate. He added that there is a gap between scientific research and public policies in Sri Lanka and it doesn’t let research information reach the public.
After the controversial Chinese-funded Port City project is completed, it is expected to make a huge impact on all the hotels located within Colombo. As a result Colombo city business will also collapse, Urban Sociologist Niriella observed.
“China didn’t come here to support us or extend friendship. They came here as a result of links with the Former President Rajapaksa. Existing issues with India also made China to gain a foothold in Sri Lanka. India didn’t help us as our leaders expected which made them to seek help from China. China and Pakistan have close relationships. If China wants to launch an attack on India by any chance, gaining a strong foothold in the nearest country to India makes it easier for them. They are in Colombo, Hambantota and almost everywhere,”said Niriella.
He said that Sri Lanka has become a victim of Asia’s most powerful country China and South Asia’s most powerful country India.
He outlined that the country could overcome the problems with a solid plan and all parties have to join hands together, setting aside personal agendas.