LIRNEasia is a regional ICT policy and regulation think tank active across the Asia Pacific

Does Sri Lanka have slums?

As part of our big data work, I have been looking at the 2012 Sri Lanka census preliminary results based on five percent of the responses. The picture that emerges is a far cry from the slums described in this Economist summary of research on slums:

Yet the MIT paper, which offers simple statistics about 138,000 slum households from around the world, suggests that slums are often an impediment to advancement. Poor hygiene, and the debilitating illnesses it propagates, is one curse. The majority of slum-dwellers in the MIT sample have no private latrine; in one Mumbai slum, taps are shared by more than 100 people. According to the African Population and Health Research Centre hygiene is regularly worse in slums than in rural areas. In the slums of Tongi and Jessore in Bangladesh, 82% of respondents report that a member of their household has been sick in the past month.

In the City of Colombo, Sri Lanka’s largest urban entity, only four percent of the houses are described as shanties. Eight percent are “row houses” that generally tend to share a toilet. The Census also provides information on toilets. Thirteen percent of households use public toilets (there are a few that report no toilets, but when rounded, the percentage is zero). The 13 percent using public toilets and the 12 percent living in shanties and row houses may be assumed to be the same people, perhaps?

This is the context within which urban resettlement must occur. It was reported that some people being moved into new government highrises were offended when a politician said that they will for the first time get toilets. One wishes politicians would take the time to get briefed on basic census data.


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