Sri Lanka’s expensive social safety net at crossroads

July 20, 2007 (LBO) – Tiny homesteads, tea gardens on hillocks nestled above rain fed paddyfields lining the roads, are typical of the rural village of Omantha, where its poor inhabitants depend on agriculture for a living. . The village, in the Kalutara district, is just 50 kilometers of Sri Lanka’s commercial capital Colombo and 30 kilometres off the tourist beaches along the Kalutara town.

Omantha’s economic isolation would have been complete if not for two apparel factories an hour’s bus ride away, where some of its youth have jobs.

Dependency

Despite access to good infrastructure like roads and electricity dozens of poor villages like Omantha, where chronic poverty and state dependency is widespread, dot the Agalawatte divisional secretariat area of the district.

Veteran local administrator K T Amaradasa blames widespread poverty partly on laziness, moonshine addiction, dependence on government grants and weak income management skills.

Fifteen years of welfare spending hasn’t dented the 30 percent poverty rate in the area convincing local bureaucrats, who implement government programmes in villages, that