The Centre for Poverty Analysis (CEPA) which emerged 10 years and this year celebrates its anniversary of an organisation that has had its own ups and downs as a fund-dependent NGO celebrated the event in style when it organized a two day colloquium last weekend with several other collaborators on the Poverty Research - “Current Imperatives in Understanding Poverty” conducted with a number of top notch researchers who shed much light on development and poverty.
While a direct link apparently could not be found between development and poverty with the research material processed, as indicated earlier by CEPA Chairman Prof. Hiran Dias at a press briefing, development in fact can make an impact on poverty because development generates employment.
The workshop deliberated on the different types of development strategies and found that some such as socialism has already failed and even the now much practiced capitalism too is failing. The deliberations pointed that the economic indicators that were earlier adopted to measure the economic prosperity of a country are now no longer recognized as valid, but the accepted norm of measuring prosperity of a country should be happiness of all the people that could be obtained through a rule that respects the rule of law, ensure the rights of the people and good governance that would bring in the equitable distribution of wealth of the country.
Discussions also centered on a development strategy developed on a religious base - something like the practice in Bhutan, but the idea was quickly shelved as Bhutan is an abjectly poor country and there were other implications. The ‘Current imperatives in Understanding poverty’ session centered on five themes – horizontal inequality, post conflict recovery, and development; the demographic transition of aging; climate change and leisure and recreation. The agenda for two days created immense opportunities for the participants who constituted researchers, development workers, policy makers to engage in a dialogue, stimulate debate and discussion and generate new ideas about understanding poverty.
The concept of horizontal inequality helps to move beyond understanding poverty and poverty affectedness. Inequality in incomes, consumption or wealth distributions is inter-personal or vertical inequalities. Inequality between groups matters in development because individual identity flows in part from group membership and group inequality could lead to social instability. In discussing the climate change it was deliberated that developing countries with high populations and low economic status are more at risk to the effects of climate change. Adaptation strategies that prepare developing countries for climate change threats are prescribed within a context where there are uncertainties and varying scientific viewpoints on what will take place.
The disclosure predicts that climate change will affect certain groups of people and localities more than others, threatening to exacerbate issues of poverty and vulnerability and people are exploring how to integrate climate change into development and different methodologies are now being debated.
In the case of ‘Post Crisis Recovery and Development’, the South Asian region has been affected by multiple crises in the recent past; the global economic crisis, large scale and localized natural disasters and violent conflict. The economic crisis was not seen to have impacted on economic growth indicators as much as expected in the region but localized impacts in different regions and on different aspects of people’s lives has not been sufficiently discussed. Natural and man-made disasters have added to the burden of poverty throughout the world, specially in developing countries. The interplay between disasters and poverty is particularly relevant to South Asia.
In the enumeration of an aging population it was found that Sri Lanka is aging and according to projections, the share of those over 60 years will rise from 9% in 2001 to 17% by 2021. Aging related poverty would result from the younger generation and state services being unable to bear the costs of supporting the elderly, in terms of their basic needs. Prof. S.W.R.S. Amarasekera of the Tulana University, USA making a comment said that according to official figures for inflation and average household income tends to suggest that the increase in money income has not kept up with consumer prices.
At the last session of the first day the discussion was on Leisure, recreation, and Inequality and it generated important and interesting material on development and poverty as leisure and recreation under the discussion became part and parcel of development as obviously travel and tourism is the subject matter. One of the panelists – Hiran Cooray, Chairman, Jetwing Group – one of the top tourism magnates in Sri Lanka, said that domestic tourism is not that much popular in Sri Lanka compared to international tourism and domestic tourists use guest houses and temples. Foreign travel trade has shown a huge growth and though it is a part of development and generates revenue and employment, the discussion led to how much tourism carves out niches for such negative activities as sex tourism, Mr Cooray conceded that a certain amount of such sex tourism is visible in the travel trade and agreed on the need to deter this type of activity.
Mr Cooray even went back to the days where Negombo had to grapple with such negative fall-outs of tourism as pedophiles, brothel houses and child farms and how the Catholic Church in that area came hard on the industry to eliminate those ills.
Another panelist – Feizal Samath, Editor, Business Times drew the attention of the magnitude of those ills, if and when Colombo becomes a gambling and entertainment city. He also explained that tourism should not always be seen as negative to a community and highlighted the example of the Kandalama hotel where he said there was a major hue and cry on possible environmental degradation and sharing of water resources.
In that situation, one particular official from the hotel company lived with the village community for many months, learnt and studied the issues and together with the people tackled any negative environmental issues, turning them into positives. At the end of the day, the hotel has become environmentally friendly, people from the area have got jobs and village produce, often organically produced, is mostly purchased by the hotel.
The panel identified Sri Lanka as a sick nation with alarming number of deaths by non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and how best sports – another wing of recreation could be utilized in this area of making people healthy. The matter of fencing ‘exclusive’ beach fronts by some hotels was pointed out. Mr Cooray said that it was wrong to do this beach fronts, but said that they have not fenced the beach fronts in their hotels as beaches should be allowed for the public as well to use.
Though sports could bring many benefits, Kushil Gunasekera, Founder/Trustee of the Foundation of Goodness said that most of the sports activities in the country are in disarray. He said that there are so many sports bodies that are not timely dissolved and fresh committees elected, but are continued with interim committees. He said that before achieving excellence these sports bodies must put their own houses in order.
Richard Vokes, former Asian Development Bank Country Director for Sri Lanka speaking on “Aging of Agriculture and Deagrarianisation In Asia: Implication for poverty” said that rapidly aging populations are now a clear feature of developing Asia reflecting success of family planning in many countries as well as the demographic transition associated with the rising incomes.
He said that while the aging of farmers is evident in Sri Lanka, other countries in the region notably Malaysia and Thailand have already experienced this phenomenon.
Dr. Samar Verma, Senior Programme Officer, Think Tank Initiative, International Development Research Centre, New Delhi making the closing remarks on Day 2 said that the Think Thank Initiative has an important role to play to bring top research quality, important communication linking with policy makers and collaborations and partnerships.
Dr. Nimal Sandaratne, eminent economist and former Chairman, CEPA putting the 2-day colloquium to a close said that CEPA has become an important institution in Sri Lanka as a leading research institution on poverty and poverty related issues. He said that CEPA also combines issues with regard to macro economics themes of poverty which would give greater understanding of poverty. It builds capacity for research on poverty.
He said that during the last five years or so the human development score is rising marginally while Sri Lanka’s position in the world has gone down about five positions and the country has gone backwards. The colloquium would have been ideal and unique, if parallel to other researchers and experts on poverty, a cross section of poor people would have been accommodated to participate and for them to innumerate what their needs were and how they could be obtained.
The other organizations which collaborated in this event were the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Centre de Researches pour le Development International (CRDI), Global Development Network (GDN), Sri Lanka National Commission for UNESCO (SLNCU), Seylan Bank PLC, The Sunday Times and The Asia Foundation.