Fact File

Geography

Population: 21,324,791 (July 2009 estimate)
Legislative Capital: Sri Jayawardanapura-Kotte
Commercial Capital: Colombo
Area: 25,332 square miles (65,610 sq km)
Coastline: 833 miles (1,340 km)
Highest Point: Mount Pidurutalagala at 8,281 feet (2,524 m)

Sri Lanka is an island nation in the Indian Ocean, located in Southern Asia, about 31 km off the southern coast of India in a strategic location near major Indian Ocean sea lanes and surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait. As a result of its location in the path of major sea routes, Sri Lanka is a strategic naval link between West Asia and South East Asia. It was an important stop on the ancient Silk Road. The natural beauty of Sri Lanka has led to the title The Pearl of the Indian Ocean. It is part of South Asia.

The climate is tropical and the south-western part of the island is the wettest and includes tropical monsoons: the northeast monsoon (December to March), and the southwest monsoon (June to October). Its terrain is mostly low, flat to rolling plain, with mountains in the south-central interior. Natural resources include limestone, graphite, mineral sands, gems, phosphates, clay, hydropower.

Most of the rain in the southwest falls from April to June and October to November. The north-eastern part of Sri Lanka is drier and most of its rain falls from December to February. Sri Lanka’s average yearly temperature is around 86°F to 91°F (28°C to 31°C).

People and Society

The culture of Sri Lanka has been influenced by many things in the past, but has managed to retain much of its ancient, rich aspects. Mostly it has been influenced by religion and colonization by the Dutch, the Portuguese and the British.

Sri Lanka has also been a centre of the Buddhist religion and culture from ancient times and is one of the few remaining abodes of Buddhism in South Asia along with Ladakh, Bhutan and the Chittagong hill tracts. Sri Lanka is a multi-religious and multi-ethnic nation, with a fifth of the population following faiths other than Buddhism – notably Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. The Sinhalese community forms the majority of the population (around 78%), with Tamils, who are mostly concentrated in the north and east of the island, forming the largest ethnic minority. Other communities include the Muslim Moors and Malays as well as Burghers. English is widely spoken and is studied as a compulsory secondary language in school.

Government

The President of Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is the elected head of state and the head of government and is a dominant political figure in Sri Lanka. Elections are held every six years. The President is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, head of the Cabinet, appoints the prime minister, and could dissolve parliament (after one year has passed since the convening of parliament after a parliamentary election). Presidents cannot be taken to court. However
they can be impeached by a two-thirds majority in Parliament. They can place the country in a state of emergency and promulgate any regulation without legislative approval. At the opening of Parliament, the President delivers an address similar to a Speech from the Throne, outlining government policy. The President has the power to appoint Attorneys-at-Laws to the position of President’s Counsel and military personal to the post of Aide de Camp to the President. The nation’s President has the power to summon, suspend, prorogue, or terminate a legislative session and to dissolve the Parliament.

The Parliament of Sri Lanka is the 225-member legislature of Sri Lanka with its official seat of government in Sri Jayawardenapura-Kotte, the capital. The members of Parliament are elected by proportional representation for six-year terms, with universal suffrage. Parliament reserves the power to make all laws. It is modeled after the British Parliament. The Speaker or, in his absence the Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Committees or the Deputy Chairman of Committees, presides over Parliament. Of the 225 members, 196 are elected from 22 electoral districts, which are multi- member. The remaining 29 MPs are elected from National Lists allocated to the parties (and independent groups) in proportion to their share of the national vote.

Economy

The country is famous for the production and export of tea, coffee, coconuts, rubber and cinnamon, the last of which is native to the country and boasts a progressive and modern industrial economy. The natural beauty of Sri Lanka’s tropical forests, beaches and landscape, as well as its rich cultural heritage make it a world famous tourist destination

The main economic sectors of the country are tourism, tea export, apparel, textile, rice production and other agricultural products. In addition to these economic sectors, overseas employment contributes highly in foreign exchange, 90% of expatriate Sri Lankans reside in the Middle East.

With an economy worth $56 billion (2011 IMF estimate) ($140 billion PPP estimate) and a per capita GDP of about $7000 (PPP), Sri Lanka has mostly had strong growth rates in recent years. In GDP per capita terms, it is ahead of other countries in the South Asian region. Sri Lanka’s Per Capita GDP is presently US$ 900 – the highest in South Asia and the Literacy rate is 92% – the highest in South Asia and second highest in Asia.

Transportation

Transportation in Sri Lanka is based mainly on the road network which is centred on Sri Lanka’s commercial capital, Colombo. There is also a railway network, but it is largely a legacy of British colonial rule and is less appropriate for the modern transport requirements of the country. There are navigable waterways, harbours and airports, including an international airport, located in Katunayake, 22 miles north of Colombo. The roadways around the capital were not in very good condition. Many important roads in Colombo have recently undergone an accelerated upgrading.

Roads:
Roads are the backbone of the transport sector in the country. They are vital for the movement of people and goods and play an important role in integrating the country, facilitating economic growth, and ultimately reducing poverty. National roads carry over 70 per cent of the traffic in Sri Lanka. However, uncontrolled roadside development, as well as years of neglect and poor road maintenance has resulted in low travel speeds and poor service. This has discouraged long distance traffic and hindered the spread of economic activities and development in regions other than the Colombo Metropolitan Area (CMA).

The government of Sri Lanka embarked on a major program of introducing expressways in the country the first of which was opened for traffic in November 2011. Phase I of the southern express starts from the suburban town of Kottawa and extends up to the port city of Galle. Only cars, vans, jeeps, buses, lorries and heavy vehicles with 10 wheels are permitted. A three tiered toll charge is levied for vehicles using the express way and the speed limit on the expressway is 100 km per hour. Travel time from Colombo to Gall which previously amounted to over three hours has now been reduced to less than one hour. The colombo/ katunayake express way is scheduled for completion in 2012. An expressway connecting colombo and kandy too is in the pipeline

Railways:
While Sri Lanka Railways (SLR) played a dominant role in the country’s transport sector until 1928, its share in passenger and freight transportation has reduced to about 8 per cent and 5 per cent respectively. The railways continue to face serious competition from road transportation and have been adversely affected by the country’s two-decade civil war. Since 1989, security threats have led to the suspension of services on the only two profitable lines: the Northern Line beyond Vavunia, and the Talaimannar Line. Since the end of the civil war in May 2009, some of the suspended services have been reintroduced.

Air Taxi:
The national carrier SriLankan Airlines operates an air taxi service using twin otter planes on straight floats to several key cities in the country. This service is popular amongst tourists as it reduces travel time between key cities considerably. For further details, please click here.

Ports:
Sri Lanka has several large ports such as Colombo, Galle, Trincomalee, and Kankasanthurai, as well as harbours. The Port of Colombo, the country’s premier commercial port, is one of the better performing ports in Asia. It handles both conventional cargo as well as containers, and has been acknowledged as one of the most economical ports in the region. A new port is currently being constructed in Hambabtota with aid from China.

Airports:
Bandaranaike International Airport located 32 kms from colombo is the country’s international airport and currently caters to the national carrier as well as many reputed international carriers. A second international airport in Mattala, Hambantota in southern Sri Lanka is currently under constructions. In addition, these are several domestic airports in the country.