Sri Lanka can be seen as a society in transition. Moving from conflict to peace, following the ending in 2009 of a decades-long civil war, has gone more slowly than expected, due at least in part to a post-war narrowing of democratic space and civil freedom. However the election of a new government in January 2015 raised hopes for a transition towards greater openness, more confident and active citizens’ participation, and strengthened commitment to human rights
The overwhelming majority of the 20 million people who live on this small and beautiful island are Sinhalese, and predominantly Buddhist. Another 15% are Tamils, mostly Hindus. Christians, who may be Sinhalese or Tamil, comprise 7.5%, and most of them belong the Catholic Church, while Muslims make up about 9%.
The country’s official classification as lower middle-income masks huge inequalities. Half the population live below the poverty line, and support for education, health and other social services has been steadily cut down. Poverty is disproportionately concentrated among Tamils in the North and East former conflict zone, and in the central plantation districts, but large numbers of rural Sinhalese, especially in the South, also find themselves trapped in situations of structural disadvantage, and shut out from the growing socio-economic opportunities available to those with the means to access them.
CAFOD in Sri Lanka
Our focus in Sri Lanka is on peace and reconciliation, and good governance. Through partners across the island, we are working from grassroots level upwards:
- to break down barriers, reduce misconceptions, fears and prejudices, and help communities address the issues which stop them from moving towards reconciliation
- to build a practice of active citizenship and constructive engagement with local government
- to bring the voice and influence of all Sri Lankans to bear at national level in the decision-making processes which affect their livelihoods and wellbeing, and determine the shape and pace of the peace process
Following the 2004 tsunami, and during and after the war, CAFOD support helped stricken families to rebuild their homes and livelihoods. Many areas of Sri Lanka remain prone to natural disasters such as drought or flooding, and the families who live in those areas are often the poorest and least able to cope. Accordingly we continue to stand by in readiness, through our sister agency Caritas Sri Lanka, to provide emergency relief as needed, and promote disaster preparedness and resilience.