An independent state called Ceylon from 1948; Sri Lanka assumed its current official name in 1972. A decades-long civil conflict between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the government of Sri Lanka has been a serious impediment to the nation’s overall progress and welfare. Although there has been some apparent resolution with the recent defeat of the LTTE by the Sri Lankan military, the conflict continues to cast a shadow over the economy and its society at large. Furthermore, the nation has been struck by several large-scale natural disasters, including a 2004 tsunami that took an estimated 40,000 lives and left over 443,000 people displaced.
The Indian Tamils, a distinct ethnic group, comprise about 5 per cent of the Sri Lankan population. Tensions between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil separatists erupted into war in 1983. An estimated tens of thousands of people have died in the conflict.
Sri Lanka is a developing nation that despite its years of civil war saw a gradual and steady rise in its economy in the 1990s. Sri Lanka’s main industries now include food processing, textiles and apparel, food and beverages, port construction, telecommunications and insurance and banking. In 2008, textiles and garments accounted for more than 40 per cent of its exports. Sri Lanka has a 91 per cent literacy rate in its local languages and an average life expectancy of 72 years that ranks well above those of neighbours India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
However the country’s income inequality is significant, with a large gap between populations in rural and urban areas. About 36 per cent of the country’s population lives under the poverty line. Factors behind this include drops in agricultural labour output and a lack of income-earning opportunities for the rural population, along with overall rates of high inflation.
Approximately 1.5 million Sri Lankans earn a living outside of their country, with the majority situated in the Middle East. These workers account for over $2.5 billion a year of Sri Lanka’s remittances, an amount second only to earnings from garment exports, and they consist of a labour force made up mostly of women working as housemaids.
For a second consecutive year, Sri Lanka is on the Tier 2 Watch List for failing to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of human trafficking.
The country actively participates in the United Nations and generally seeks to expand ties with the international community.