Everything else.. The Real 10 Year Challenge: How Has Sri Lanka Fared?

The Real 10 Year Challenge: How Has Sri Lanka Fared?

2019 Feb 3

The 10-year challenge seems to be all the buzz among social media enthusiasts since the dawn of 2019. From awkward high school pictures to post-puberty glow-ups, newsfeeds on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were filled with side-by-sides of dramatic ten-year transformations. With any social media hype, however, the 10-year challenge shed light on both the positives and negatives of a number of current issues.

This begs the question: how has Sri Lanka fared within the past ten years?

Let’s take a look.

1. Post-War reconciliation

The civil war that sunk our paradise isle into almost thirty years of fear, instability, and violence finally ended ten years ago in May 2009. Regardless of the momentous triumph, the years since 2009 have only made it clearer that the wounds of a brutal civil war do not heal easily. Investigations into alleged war crimes and human rights violations are still underway. Questions with regard to the progress made in seeking justice for the victims of the war remain obscure, and those who have been held accountable are only a few. Transitional justice mechanisms were established by the government in 2015. A pledge to establish a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, an Office for Missing Persons, and the drafting of the Prevention of Terrorism Act were commitments that were undertaken by the government but its effectiveness has been debated by several accounts.

Despite certain efforts, Sri Lanka has a long way to go in order to witness visible progress in her path to reconciliation.

2. Tourism
While 2009 marked the end of the civil war, the country also witnessed a significant influx of tourists to the island. In fact, prominent travel guide publisher Lonely Planet ranked Sri Lanka as the best country to visit in 2019. The tourism sector has become one of the fastest growing and dynamic industries in the country particularly after the Tourism Development Strategy that was implemented in 2011. The tourism industry played a huge role in restoring the economy following the war, especially with a notable increase in foreign exchange earnings.

3. Literacy
The literacy rate of Sri Lanka positively indicates a steady rise within the past ten years. Although a universal definition for the term ‘literacy’ does not exist, it generally refers to persons above 15 years of age who are able to read and write. The literacy rate in 2009 was approximately 91.25%. As of 2015, this percentage has increased steadily to 92.5%, according to the CIA World Factbook.

As for computer literacy, Sri Lanka has room for progress. However, a dramatic increase in computer literacy rates in the country has been observed. Persons aged five to sixty-nine years of age were taken into consideration in a survey conducted by the Department of Census and Statistics. As of 2009, the computer literacy rate in Sri Lanka was 20.3%, which increased to 28.3% by 2017. Despite such promising numbers, the so-called ‘digital divide’ has caused some notable limitations. The percentage distribution varies widely among districts, with Colombo ranking first on the scale, in both computer and digital literacy. Other districts such as Nuwara Eliya, Badulla and Monaragala remain at the bottom of the list with computer literacy rates as low as 7.6%, 4.9%, and 5.6% respectively.

4. Economy
Ten years ago, Sri Lanka was in the midst of an intensifying war, political friction, and a crippling economy. The short-term loans to resolve large financial deficits, as well as subsiding exports, were sure signs of a looming financial crisis. Sri Lanka’s GDP growth was at a record low of 3.5% in 2009 and a per capita GDP of $2054. Ten years later, the Sri Lankan economy has changed dramatically. The poverty headcount ratio that stood at 8.9% in 2009/2010 decreased dramatically to 4.1% as of 2016.

The government strived to achieve upper middle-income status following the end of the war in 2009. Other plans included the creation of a knowledge-based social market economy and a Megalopolis in the Western region.

Several development projects have emerged since 2009, including highways and improved road networks. The development of the tea industry is also set to reduce rural poverty in the coming years.

5. Sports
Ten years ago, cricket and rugby were more or less one of few interests that caught the attention of Sri Lankans in the field of sports. Although the two sports are as popular as they were back then, new additions to the sporting arena in Sri Lanka have been grabbing headlines within the past decade.

A notable new trend that caught on since 2010 was the annual charity run, Run for their Lives which began in 2010 as a fundraiser for cancer patients. Similar events soon followed with Trail as One and Footsteps for Freedom.

Sri Lanka also made headlines when the National Netball Team won the 2018 Asian Netball Championship defeating Singapore. The team’s Tharjini Sivalingam also won the Player of the Tournament award.

Our country’s own Hassan Esufally also made Sri Lanka proud by being the first Sri Lankan to complete the ‘Big 5 Marathon.’ The Commonwealth Games held in 2018 also witnessed a 139 member team representing Sri Lanka. Notable players included Canadian born Anna-Marie Suzanne Ondaatje who became the first Sri Lankan to represent Sri Lanka in gymnastics and Indika Dissanayake who won the Silver Medal for weightlifting in the 69kg Men’s category.

Sri Lanka’s very own wonder-woman, Jayanthi Kuru-Utumpala became the first ever Sri Lankan to summit Mount Everest on 21 May 2016. Johann Peiris also accomplished this amazing feat soon after, becoming the second Sri Lankan to summit Mount Everest on 22 May 2018.

Of course, one cannot leave out our nation’s achievements in the cricketing arena. Becoming runners up at the 2011 Cricket World Cup, our team also emerged victorious when they won the ICC World Twenty20 championship in 2014. The team also won the ODI Tri-series between Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka in January 2018.

6. Governance
A politically stable environment is one aspect that Sri Lankans would have hoped to have seen improved, following 2009. However, Sri Lanka’s political sphere has been governed by all sorts of drama, to say the least. Following the defeat of former President Mahinda Rajapakse in the tightly contested Presidential election in 2015, the citizenry hoped for various state sector reforms. President Maithripala Sirisena made promises to recheck the executive branch, address issues regarding corruption and investigate war crime allegations, among others. Three years on, such measures are yet to be completely and practically addressed.

Perhaps the most surprising turn of events that made headlines around the world was the constitutional crisis that occurred on the 26th of October 2018 when former President Mahinda Rajapakse was appointed as Prime Minister, in a sudden and unexpected move, by President Sirisena. In a dramatic turn of events, Sri Lanka now had two Prime Ministers and the legitimacy of such an appointment became a media debacle for weeks to follow. Citizens took to the streets to protest the unconstitutional move made by the President and demanded that any new appointments were to be done in a legitimate manner. The Supreme Court finally ruled that the President’s decision to appoint a new Prime Minister and dissolve Parliament was unconstitutional on 13th December 2018. Ranil Wickremasinghe was re-appointed as Prime Minister following the ruling.

7. Unemployment
Unemployment is measured by the number of people actively looking for a job as a percentage of the labour force. Ten years ago, unemployment rates stood at 5.8% (males- 4.3%, females- 8.6%). Sri Lanka has made slight progress with the unemployment rate decreasing to 4.2% by 2017 (male- 2.9%, female- 6.5%). Sadly, it is the youth of the country that are at the centre of these statistics. There appears to be a significant gap between opportunities available for urban and rural youth. As a country that accounts for youth as a significant proportion of the entire population, this is an alarming situation. Several findings have observed the lack of soft skills in young persons looking for employment, despite having adequate professional qualifications. Donglin Li, the Country Director of the ILO Office for Sri Lanka and Maldives pointed out that although English is taught as a subject in schools, it is not treated as a necessary skill in the world of work. Sri Lanka has much to improve in order to provide better prospects for the nation’s youth, in particular.


Taken together, the past ten years have certainly shed light on the fact that Sri Lanka has both improved and shown potential for further improvement in various sectors of development. Nevertheless, we still have a long way to go.