Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities, and by 2030 that will rise to about 60 per cent. Nearly all of this growth is happening in developing countries, where as many as 66 million people migrate to urban areas annually. No country has become prosperous without successfully urbanising. Sri Lanka today [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Building ‘inclusive’ cities for Sri Lanka’s future


Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities, and by 2030 that will rise to about 60 per cent. Nearly all of this growth is happening in developing countries, where as many as 66 million people migrate to urban areas annually. No country has become prosperous without successfully urbanising.

Sri Lanka today is a lower middle-income country. Bolstered by its highly educated people, its location in a fast-growing region, and its comparative economic advantages, its sights are set on becoming an upper-middle income country. Sri Lanka has already changed from a rural to an urbanising economy. The urban agglomeration of Colombo – Kandy– Galle accounts for most of Sri Lanka’s economic growth and is home to most of Sri Lanka’s people, including the majority of its poor people.

The Sri Lankan Government has committed to the central role of urbanisation in the country’s development. A modernisation programme for metropolitan Colombo is underway with the vision of transforming the city into a modern capital that is efficient, livable and smart, and that provides well-managed services and economic opportunities for its people. But there are also other urban centres, such as Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Jaffna, which have the potential to emerge as new areas of growth if integrated into the country’s economic and infrastructure networks.
The World Bank (WB) is currently supporting urbanisation in Sri Lanka through the Metro Colombo Urban Development and the Strategic Cities Development Projects. These projects are focused on select aspects of urban development, such as urban flood management, capacity building of municipal authorities, and improved urban services and public spaces. To achieve these objectives, both projects involve some land acquisition or resettlement.

The WB’s extensive experience worldwide—and its leadership in promoting the highest standards in resettlement management—have shown that if resettlement plans are prepared and implemented properly, resettlement can actually improve the living conditions of poor populations.

Under the resettlement programme of the Metro Colombo Project, 90 households were relocated from the flood-prone areas along the St. Sebastian South Canal. Households were provided with accommodation in a newly-built condominium near their previous residences. Families with special needs received apartments on the ground floor to provide easy access and mobility.

To ensure households are well established in their new communities, they are being provided with livelihood support, job training, micro-credit, and business support services. Post-resettlement activities are closely monitored to continuously improve on implementation.

The process of relocation, which proceeded in compliance with the WB’s Policy on Involuntary Resettlement and Sri Lanka’s national laws and policies on land acquisition and involuntary resettlement, included public meetings, consultation, and the distribution of written materials.
Households were given the opportunity to make informed decisions about the relocation and a project office established in the community offered a venue for residents to voice concerns.

Around the world, governments acquire private property or limit access to public land under eminent domain for public purposes. Land acquisition and resettlement, including the relocation of people who have occupied public land without ownership rights, often becomes unavoidable if public development interests are being pursued.

As Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank, said: “Development is complex and difficult. Resettlement, in particular, is a very hard issue. Every country in the world knows this. Developed countries used eminent domain to take land in order to build highways, railways, ports and other infrastructure projects for the greater good –in order to create jobs and build economies. Developing countries are doing the same. If we are serious about our goals – ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity — we will need to do even more infrastructure in the developing world. But alongside these projects, we need strong safeguards and we will ensure that they will not only be put in place, but that we will implement them to the best of our abilities.”

Over the past 30 years, the WB has developed a comprehensive safeguards’ policy framework to assist governments in addressing such challenges and managing the environmental and social impacts of development projects. The Operational Policy on Involuntary Resettlement which underpins the WB’s safeguards’ practice builds on a number of key principles: avoiding or minimising involuntary displacement where feasible; designing and implementing resettlement activities as sustainable development programmes when resettlement is unavoidable; and supporting the efforts of displaced persons to improve, or restore, their livelihoods and standards of living at least to pre-displacement levels.

As Sri Lanka’s economic transformation accelerates, it is important that any relocation of people needed in the context of urbanisation or infrastructure development be carried out in a manner that does not disadvantage those being displaced. To achieve this, a robust and comprehensive legal framework for resettlement, including fair and transparent appeals mechanisms, will be needed. While providing greater economic opportunity for the Sri Lankan people, this framework must also safeguard the rights of citizens in the development of their country. This is a debate that Sri Lankan society needs to engage in, to help develop policies which bring international best practice to the country.

(The writer is the Country
Director of the World Bank
for Sri Lanka and

Right of Reply

“Evicted under the World Bank’s watch”

Francoise Clottes, World Bank Country Director for Sri Lanka and Maldives, says the article published on May 24, 2015 entitled “Evicted under the World Bank’s watch” in the Business Times contains factual inaccuracies that undermine what should be an informed discussion of such an important issue.

She said:

All persons relocated from the flood-prone areas along the St. Sebastian South Canal under the World Bank project were adequately informed and consented to participate in the resettlement, which rehoused them in improved dwellings and with compensation. Affected persons were consulted in advance of the move, were provided with keys and chose the dates to relocate to their new homes. Further, a transport allowance was paid to facilitate relocation. The resettlement process was facilitated and closely monitored by the communication development officers attached to the project. To confirm, there were no reports of forced evictions associated with the World Bank’s project along the St. Sebastian South Canal. We are informed by the detailed documentary evidence available through the records maintained at the site office and by the Grievance Redress Mechanism, which is implemented in parallel.

The World Bank takes evidence-based allegations of non-compliance with Bank policy extremely seriously and is equally committed to an informed public discussion on resettlement that is based on facts, an understanding of the Bank’s policies, and put in context.

This resettlement process is an integral part of the wider Sri Lanka – Metro Colombo Urban Development Project, being financed by the Government and the Bank to minimise flooding and build the capacity of municipal authorities to improve and manage local infrastructure and urban services. In this effort, as elsewhere, World Bank support aims to reduce poverty and ensure that all citizens benefit from the development process.

Business Times Editor: Last week’s article was submitted by a Senior Researcher at the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) based on their research.

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