58th Session of the Commission for Social Development
13 February 2020, UNHQ
Ms. Rekha Gunasekera, Minister
Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations
My delegation takes this opportunity to extend warm felicitations to you and the members of the Bureau on your election and assure our full support and cooperation during the Session.
Sri Lanka aligns with the statement made by Guyana on behalf of the Group of 77 and China.
The Commission for Social Development convenes this year at the commencement of the ‘Decade of Action’ to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 and my delegation is confident that the deliberations of this Commission will contribute towards the efforts of the global community, in securing the goals and targets related to social development and there effective implementation.
The attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals and the implementation of the commitments made at the World Summit for Social Development in 1995, are mutually reinforcing and require partnerships and policies that are people-centered. While the highest priority has been afforded to the attainment of these goals and commitments, it is ominous that the progress achieved so far is below our expectations, and many gaps and challenges remain. Threats to human well-being including environmental risks transcend national boundaries, and the global transformations of the world economy are continuously affecting the parameters of social development in all countries.
It is accepted that development policies and programmes, including those regarding poverty eradication, education, health care, participation in public life, full and productive employment & decent work and housing development, need to take into account the inclusion of all persons in society on an equal basis. In this context, Sri Lanka’s long-standing welfare policies and programs that cater to the needs of all citizens, particularly including the under-privileged and vulnerable persons in society, contribute to efforts that ensure, no one is left behind. The dividend of these social protection efforts is reflected in Sri Lanka’s ranking in the Human Development Index, which currently stands at 76 out of 189 countries.
Investment in people is essential to develop human capacity and achieve social development. Extending the coverage of quality education and health care for all is at the core of that effort, and well-designed social protection systems help the poor and vulnerable families to access those services. Sri Lanka, since 1945 has implemented the universal free education policy that provides access to learning at no cost, to all children from primary to the tertiary levels thus ensuring education for all.
The universal health policy of the country entitles all citizens to free healthcare at Government hospitals, which has formed the foundation of the country’s principle of ensuring equity in access to health. This is reflected in the National Health Strategic Master Plan 2016-2025 which aims at ensuring the equal distribution of services to all patients, and accessibility of quality services and financial protection for each patient.
Social inequality and poverty can be sought to be eradicated, only when new income opportunities are provided to low income earners to secure an additional income. In Sri Lanka poverty alleviation programmes such as the “Samurdhi Program” and the “Grama Shakthi People’s Movement” have actively contributed to a decline in national poverty from 26.1% in 1990 to 4.1% two decades later by providing sustainable assistance for livelihoods to low-income families in districts where this vulnerable group is relatively high. Empowering groups in vulnerable situations, including persons with disabilities is also a prime concern. As such, measures have been adopted in the country, to foster inclusive societies by enacting polices focusing on these groups with a view to mainstream the disability perspective into all social inclusion strategies.
Despite the significant achievements made with regard to the social integration of young people, there still remain many challenges which impede their inclusive participation, and thereby constrain the development of a nation’s full potential. The active engagement of youth in development efforts is central to achieving sustainable, inclusive and stable societies, and their access to employment and professional training are essential for their economic inclusion. Sri Lanka acknowledges that the challenge is to bridge the youth skills gap and tackle the issue of their unemployment and underemployment, with technological advancements and development of new industries, and have taken a number of steps to address these aspects.
The priority theme of this year’s Session is an issue that cuts across all sectors of society, affecting peoples of all ages, gender and socioeconomic backgrounds. Homelessness, as stated in the Report of the Secretary-General titled ‘Affordable housing and social protection systems for all to address homelessness’, is one of the crudest manifestations of poverty, inequality and housing affordability challenges. There is a need for positive action to prevent and eliminate homelessness by adopting and implementing cross-sectoral strategies as it is not merely a lack of physical housing that is at stake but is also a loss of family, community and a sense of belonging.
While being cognizant that adequate housing is a basic need, it also needs to be recognized that most families cannot afford housing, particularly the low income urban community. Accordingly, in Sri Lanka initiatives such as the ‘Urban Regeneration Program’ develops encroached lands occupied by slum and shanty dwellers and constructs new houses for them at the same location with improved basic services and sanitation facilities. This not only introduces permanent housing but also changes the living conditions and lifestyles of the urban poor. It is envisaged that this program will be extended to the rural communities as well, to uplift their standard of living.
With a view to addressing the needs of citizens of different socio-economic levels, with special focus on vulnerable and marginalized groups such as disabled, women-headed families, war heroes, disaster and war victims, citizens with special sicknesses etc, different housing programs under the relevant Ministries are carried out island-wide. A people-centered participatory development approach is practiced, widely empowering the low income, marginalized and rural communities of all ethnic groups, to build their own houses keeping to their values based on religious and cultural diversity, orchestrating family labor, community support and their own financial resources.
Achieving sustainable development for all entails tackling challenges to social inclusion, such as discrimination, disadvantages and other barriers faced by people in
vulnerable situations. Time and again, the needs of those living in poverty, including members of social groups that are vulnerable or marginalized, are not adequately recognized, and are not reflected in decision-making processes that affect their wellbeing. It is notable that in developing the National Housing Policy of Sri Lanka, a consultative process that included information gathering from different Ministries, organizations, professional bodies, civil society and the general public was undertaken. Assistance to this project was provided by UN Habitat. I take this opportunity to thank UN-Habitat which has a long history of cooperation with the Government of Sri Lanka dating back to 1978.
As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Commission and the 25th anniversary of the Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development, Sri Lanka remains committed to creating an enabling environment for all citizens to be prosperous and contented, leading to a happy family, and a law abiding society. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development sets out an ambitious global vision: to reach and empower all, including the under-privileged and vulnerable persons. Sri Lanka stands fully committed to this end and the use of social development to achieve this goal.