Debt, a lack of education, and the ability to adapt to disasters are factors that make most Sri Lankan people feel vulnerable, says a new report, released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the University of Oxford’s Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI).
The Policy Report titled ‘Understanding Multidimensional Vulnerabilities: Impact on People of Sri Lanka’ puts forth Sri Lanka’s first ever Multidimensional Vulnerability Index (MVI), which was derived using the National Citizen Survey (NCS) 2022-23 covering a representative sample of 25,000 households.
The survey was conducted between November 2022 and March 2023 to capture the impact of the cascading crises on the people.
It demonstrates the overlapping challenges faced by Sri Lanka's population and weaves together a novel set of indicators to capture vulnerabilities beyond traditional income-based measures.
The index includes twelve indicators grouped under three dimensions: education, health and disasters, and living standards. Indicator selection was based on consultations with key stakeholders, including a technical advisory panel.
The collaborative engagement process ensured that the MVI would appropriately reflect the complexity of vulnerabilities experienced by individuals and groups across Sri Lanka.
The national results of the MVI indicate that the key factors that impact vulnerability include household indebtedness, largely due to pawning items to purchase essential goods; years of schooling, disaggregated by gender; and adaptive capacity to disasters. In addition to these, working in informal jobs, also makes individuals more vulnerable.
Commenting on the report, Dinesh Gunawardene, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka in his message noted that it comes at a crucial time for Sri Lanka.
“Given recent events, it is timely that the first Multidimensional Vulnerability Index (MVI) is developed for Sri Lanka, to ensure that those at the helm of policymaking will continue to be equipped with the information they need to determine where help is most needed,” Gunawardene said.
“Therefore, I thank the team that has worked on this report and in developing the National Citizen Survey and the MVI for taking the initiative to do so, and I encourage all decision-makers in the relevant Government institutions, as well as the private sector and civil society, to use this analysis to first understand and then implement measures to help move Sri Lanka away from vulnerability in the future.”
Dr. Sabina Alkire, Director- Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), University of Oxford observed, “The MVI sheds light on the complex landscape of vulnerability in Sri Lanka, where 55.7 percent of the population, or 12.3 million people experience multidimensionally vulnerability. Focused interventions such as reducing indebtedness or enhancing disaster preparedness are vital to build resilience. This exploratory MVI expands on Sri Lanka’s official Multidimensional Poverty Index by using 2022/23 citizen survey data and including a distinct tapestry of vulnerabilities.”
Highlighting the importance of the report, Azusa Kubota, UNDP Sri Lanka Resident Representative, said, “Amidst a rapidly shrinking fiscal space, deepening the understanding of these diverse experiences and vulnerabilities is an important first step towards designing impactful policy and programme interventions. The report’s findings have far reaching policy and programme implications as Sri Lanka embarks on a series of interventions to ensure sustainable, inclusive and green recovery pathways from the crises. We hope this report will influence and shape policies and interventions that prioritize the needs of vulnerable communities.”
Several districts, including Puttalam, Batticaloa, Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi, Ampara, Vavuniya, and Nuwara Eliya, exhibit multidimensional vulnerability, highlighting the need for focused interventions to address factors like disaster preparedness, debt relief, water source accessibility, and female education.
Thus, a nuanced, well-designed and comprehensive policy approach is recommended to improve the wellbeing of these communities.
The MVI sheds light on the complexity of existing vulnerabilities – with overall results suggesting targeted efforts in areas like debt, disaster preparedness, water source accessibility, and female education, emphasizing the need for multisectoral engagement to enhance the well-being of vulnerable communities in Sri Lanka.
Ensuring that such data is up-to-date and comprehensive is a crucial first step in addressing these challenges and maintaining progress towards a more equal world.
The MVI for Sri Lanka is identified as the first ever vulnerability index using Citizen Science. However, this study is not without its limitations. The report acknowledges this and advocates for the inclusion of further criteria and inclusion of the MVI as part of National Data collection exercises.
The NCS was initiated by UNDP Sri Lanka, in collaboration with the Citra Innovation Lab and UNDP’s SURGE Data Hub, to capture a snapshot of vulnerabilities experienced by Sri Lankans as a result of the pandemic and the economic crisis.