Sri Lanka

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The Sinhalese arrived in Sri Lanka late in the 6th century B.C., probably from northern India. Buddhism was introduced beginning in about the mid-third century B.C., and a great civilization developed at the cities of Anuradhapura (kingdom from circa 200 B.C. to circa A.D. 1000) and Polonnaruwa (from about 1070 to 1200). In the 14th century, a south Indian dynasty seized power in the north and established a Tamil kingdom. Occupied by the Portuguese in the 16th century and by the Dutch in the 17th century, the island was ceded to the British in 1796, became a crown colony in 1802, and was united under British rule by 1815. As Ceylon, it became independent in 1948; its name was changed to Sri Lanka in 1972. Tensions between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil separatists erupted into war in 1983. Tens of thousands have died in an ethnic conflict that continues to fester. After two decades of fighting, the government and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam formalized a cease-fire in February 2002, with Norway brokering peace negotiations.


Southern Asia, island in the Indian Ocean, south of India

Geographic coordinates:

7 00 N, 81 00 E


total: 65,610 sq km
land: 64,740 sq km
water: 870 sq km

Land boundaries:

0 km


1,340 km

Maritime claims:

territorial sea: 12 nm
contiguous zone: 24 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
continental shelf: 200 nm or to the edge of the continental margin


tropical monsoon; northeast monsoon (December to March); southwest monsoon (June to October)


mostly low, flat to rolling plain; mountains in south-central interior

Elevation extremes:

lowest point: Indian Ocean 0 m
highest point: Pidurutalagala 2,524 m

Natural resources:

limestone, graphite, mineral sands, gems, phosphates, clay, hydropower

Land use:

arable land: 13.96%
permanent crops: 15.24%
other: 70.8% (2005)

Irrigated land:

7,430 sq km (2003)

Natural hazards:

occasional cyclones and tornadoes

Environment - current issues:

deforestation; soil erosion; wildlife populations threatened by poaching and urbanization; coastal degradation from mining activities and increased pollution; freshwater resources being polluted by industrial wastes and sewage runoff; waste disposal; air pollution in Colombo

Geography - note:

strategic location near major Indian Ocean sea lanes


note: since the outbreak of hostilities between the government and armed Tamil separatists in the mid-1980s, several hundred thousand Tamil civilians have fled the island and more than 200,000 Tamils have sought refuge in the West (July 2006 est.)

Age structure:

0-14 years: 24.1% (male 2,488,689/female 2,379,233)
15-64 years: 68.6% (male 6,727,399/female 7,140,751)
65 years and over: 7.3% (male 687,842/female 798,326) (2006 est.)

Median age:

total: 29.8 years
male: 28.7 years
female: 30.9 years (2006 est.)

Population growth rate:

0.78% (2006 est.)

Birth rate:

15.51 births/1,000 population (2006 est.)

Death rate:

6.52 deaths/1,000 population (2006 est.)

Net migration rate:

-1.23 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2006 est.)

Sex ratio:

at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.05 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.94 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.86 male(s)/female
total population: 0.96 male(s)/female (2006 est.)

Infant mortality rate:

total: 13.97 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 15.18 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 12.7 deaths/1,000 live births (2006 est.)

Life expectancy at birth:

total population: 73.41 years
male: 70.83 years
female: 76.12 years (2006 est.)

Total fertility rate:

1.84 children born/woman (2006 est.)

HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate:

less than 0.1% (2001 est.)

people living with HIV/AIDS:

3,500 (2001 est.)

HIV/AIDS - deaths:

less than 200 (2003 est.)


noun: Sri Lankan(s)
adjective: Sri Lankan

Ethnic groups:

Sinhalese 73.8%, Sri Lankan Moors 7.2%, Indian Tamil 4.6%, Sri Lankan Tamil 3.9%, other 0.5%, unspecified 10% (2001 census provisional data)


Buddhist 69.1%, Muslim 7.6%, Hindu 7.1%, Christian 6.2%, unspecified 10% (2001 census provisional data)


Sinhala (official and national language) 74%, Tamil (national language) 18%, other 8%
note: English is commonly used in government and is spoken competently by about 10% of the population


definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 92.3%
male: 94.8%
female: 90% (2003 est.)

Country name:

conventional long form: Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
conventional short form: Sri Lanka
former: Serendib, Ceylon

Government type:



Colombo; note - Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte is the legislative capital

Administrative divisions:

8 provinces; Central, North Central, North Eastern, North Western, Sabaragamuwa, Southern, Uva, Western
note: in 1998 the Government of Sri Lanka proposed a merger of the former Northern and Eastern provinces; while this merger was never ratified, the Government treats North Eastern Province as a de facto singular administrative unit


4 February 1948 (from UK)

National holiday:

Independence Day, 4 February (1948)


adopted 16 August 1978, certified 31 August 1978

Legal system:

a highly complex mixture of English common law, Roman-Dutch, Muslim, Sinhalese, and customary law; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction


18 years of age; universal

Legislative branch:

unicameral Parliament (225 seats; members elected by popular vote on the basis of a modified proportional representation system by district to serve six-year terms)
elections: last held 2 April 2004 (next to be held by 2010)
election results: percent of vote by party or electoral alliance - SLFP and JVP (no longer in formal UPFA alliance) 45.6%, UNP 37.83%, TNA 6.84%, JHU 5.97%, SLMC 2.02%, UPF 0.54%, EPDP 0.27%, others 0.93%; seats by party - UNP 68, SLFP 57, JVP 39, UNP dissident 1, TNA 22, CWC 8, JHU 7, JHU dissidents 2, SLMC 6, SLMC dissidents 4, Communist Party 2, LSSP 2, MEP 2, NUA 2, UPF 2, EPDP 1

Judicial branch:

Supreme Court; Court of Appeals; judges for both courts are appointed by the president

Economy - overview:

In 1977, Colombo abandoned statist economic policies and its import substitution trade policy for market-oriented policies and export-oriented trade. Sri Lanka's most dynamic sectors now are food processing, textiles and apparel, food and beverages, telecommunications, and insurance and banking. In 2003, plantation crops made up only 15% of exports (compared with 93% in 1970), while textiles and garments accounted for 63%. GDP grew at an average annual rate of about 5.5% in the 1990s, but 2001 saw the first contraction in the country's history, by 1.4%, due to a combination of power shortages, severe budgetary problems, the global slowdown, and continuing civil strife. Growth recovered to 5% between 2002 and 2005. About 800,000 Sri Lankans work abroad, 90% in the Middle East. They send home about $1 billion a year. The struggle by the Tamil Tigers of the north and east for a largely independent homeland continues to cast a shadow over the economy. In late December 2004, a major tsunami took about 31,000 lives, left more than 6,300 missing and 443,000 displaced, and destroyed an estimated $1.5 billion worth of property.

GDP (purchasing power parity):

$87.15 billion (2005 est.)

GDP (official exchange rate):

$21.5 billion (2005 est.)

GDP - real growth rate:

5% (2005 est.)

GDP - per capita (PPP):

$4,300 (2005 est.)

GDP - composition by sector:

agriculture: 17.7%
industry: 27.1%
services: 55.2% (2005 est.)

Labor force:

8.08 million (2005 est.)

Labor force - by occupation:

agriculture: 38%
industry: 17%
services: 45% (1998 est.)

Unemployment rate:

8.4% (2005 est.)

Population below poverty line:

22% (1997 est.)

Household income or consumption by percentage share:

lowest 10%: 3.5%
highest 10%: 28% (1995)

Distribution of family income - Gini index:

34.4 (1995)

Inflation rate (consumer prices):

11.2% (2005 est.)

Investment (gross fixed):

27% of GDP (2005 est.)


revenues: $3.804 billion
expenditures: $5.469 billion; including capital expenditures of $NA (2005 est.)

Public debt:

98.5% of GDP (2005 est.)

Agriculture - products:

rice, sugarcane, grains, pulses, oilseed, spices, tea, rubber, coconuts; milk, eggs, hides, beef; fish


processing of rubber, tea, coconuts, tobacco and other agricultural commodities; telecommunications, insurance, banking; clothing, textiles; cement, petroleum refining

Industrial production growth rate:

6.1% (2005 est.)

Electricity - production:

7.308 billion kWh (2003)

Electricity - consumption:

6.796 billion kWh (2003)

Oil - consumption:

79,000 bbl/day (2003 est.)

Current account balance:

-$388 million (2005 est.)


$6.442 billion f.o.b. (2005 est.)

Exports - commodities:

textiles and apparel, tea and spices; diamonds, emeralds, rubies; coconut products, rubber manufactures, fish

Exports - partners:

US 32.4%, UK 13.5%, India 6.8%, Germany 4.8% (2004)


$8.37 billion f.o.b. (2005 est.)

Imports - commodities:

textile fabrics, mineral products, petroleum, foodstuffs, machinery and transportation equipment

Imports - partners:

India 18%, Singapore 8.7%, Hong Kong 7.7%, China 5.7%, Iran 5.2%, Japan 5.1%, Malaysia 4.1% (2004)

Reserves of foreign exchange and gold:

$2.384 billion (2005 est.)

Debt - external:

$11.59 billion (2005 est.)

Economic aid - recipient:

$577 million (1998)

Currency (code):

Sri Lankan rupee (LKR)

Fiscal year:

calendar year

Telephones - main lines in use:

1,130,923 (2005)

Telephones - mobile cellular:

3,084,845 (2005)

Telephone system:

general assessment: very inadequate domestic service, particularly in rural areas; likely improvement with privatization of national telephone company and encouragement to private investment; good international service (1999)
domestic: national trunk network consists mostly of digital microwave radio relay; fiber-optic links now in use in Colombo area and two fixed wireless local loops have been installed; competition is strong in mobile cellular systems; telephone density remains low at 2.6 main lines per 100 persons (1999)
international: country code - 94; submarine cables to Indonesia and Djibouti; satellite earth stations - 2 Intelsat (Indian Ocean) (1999)

Radio broadcast stations:

AM 26, FM 45, shortwave 1 (1998)

Television broadcast stations:

21 (1997)

Internet country code:


Internet hosts:

6,025 (2005)

Internet users:

280,000 (2005)


16 (2005)

Airports - with paved runways:

total: 14
over 3,047 m: 1
1,524 to 2,437 m: 6
914 to 1,523 m: 7 (2005)

Airports - with unpaved runways:

total: 2
under 914 m: 2 (2005)


total: 1,449 km
broad gauge: 1,449 km 1.676-m gauge (2004)


total: 97,287 km
paved: 78,802 km
unpaved: 18,485 km (2003)


160 km (primarily on rivers in southwest) (2005)

Merchant marine:

total: 24 ships (1000 GRT or over) 152,667 GRT/202,199 DWT
by type: cargo 18, container 3, passenger 1, petroleum tanker 2
foreign-owned: 10 (Germany 8, UAE 2)
registered in other countries: 6 (Panama 6) (2005)

Ports and terminals:

Colombo, Galle

Military branches:

Army, Navy, Air Force, Police Force

Disputes - international:


Refugees and internally displaced persons:

IDPs: 353,000 (both Tamils and non-Tamils displaced due to Tamil conflict); 450,000 (resulting from 2004 tsunami) (2005)