ddressing the first meeting of the 29-member National Buddhist Council of Wisdom on Friday evening, President Maithripala Sirisena said he and the government would seek the guidance of this council on how Theravada Buddhism’s vision and co-values could be applied in key issues such as sustainable development, environmental conservation and poverty alleviation through the rebuilding of a just society.
Earlier this month at the Sri Lanka Economic Forum on the theme, ‘Steering Sri Lanka towards Sustainable and Inclusive Development’, the Institute of Policy Studies explained the need for Structural Transformation and Competitiveness. It stressed the need for priority to be given to issues relating to ‘Social inclusion, Poverty and Ageing’.
The Centre for Poverty Analysis in one of its latest reports says that while we should celebrate the reducing poverty trend in the country during the past 20 years, the concentration of population in the lower income groups suggests that more work is required to ensure that sustainable poverty alleviation is achieved. Batticaloa shows the highest incidence of poverty with an estimated 20.3% of the population below the poverty line. Districts such as Jaffna, Moneragala and Badulla are close behind. In contrast, Colombo, Gampaha and Vavuniya districts have a poverty incidence of less than 5%.
Income and expenditure however have long been criticised as being unsatisfactory to measure the quality of life. The new Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) championed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) aims to address this shortcoming in money metric measures by directly measuring outcomes in health, education and living conditions. The index is equally weighted across the three dimensions and reflects indicators for the health dimension such as a calorie intake of less than 80% of the requirement, the head of the household being chronically ill or disabled; for the education dimension --households where no one has completed five years of schooling and primary age children who are not enrolled in school. For the living conditions’ dimension -- families without electricity, no access to clean water, sanitation and so on.
Whatever the figures - and there are substantial allegations that during the previous regime various figures were spin-doctored - the reality is that the National Government’s midterm strategy for sustainable eco-friendly development, will clearly not work unless it draws in all sections of the population -- the rich, the middle-income groups and specially those trapped in enforced poverty, whatever the figure may be. Thankfully the National Government’s midterm economic strategy based on what is called a socialist market economy, has made provision for the setting up of about 2,500 cluster village development councils. The Megapolis development project is also worked out to go beyond Colombo and develop all the major cities in Sri Lanka.
In Sri Lanka and all over the world poverty has been created by the growing selfcentredness and selfishness, greed and wickedness of the ruling elite. Therefore it would be more appropriate to say that all over the world billions of people are impoverished - they are forced into poverty and trapped there. The solution obviously is to take immediate and effective steps for a more equitable distribution of wealth and resources. To begin this transformation or turnaround it is essential for the rich and ruling elite to stop wasteful expenditure, luxuries and extravagance. Thankfully we see President Sirisena specially setting the example by committing himself to a simple and humble lifestyle or Alpechchathawaya. We hope other leaders, even those in religious circles, will make this same commitment so that when more is saved, there will be more to share.