I have now been out of Sri Lanka for a week, and I think it’s time for a little reflection on my 8+ weeks there. I was all over Sri Lanka during the 8 weeks: a 5 day round trip through the historic center, a 5 day sojourn in the Tea producing Nuwara Eliya region, a two day newspaper assignment in the war ravaged north and countless trips all over Colombo on newspaper and personal business. One thought struck me wherever I was: Sri Lanka is a country under construction.
Everyone I spoke to in Sri Lanka, no matter what political or socio economic stripe, agreed upon one thing: the Government is doing a remarkable job on roads and transportation. Both inside the metropolitan areas of Colombo and Kandy, as well as in surrounding areas, roads are being addressed at a feverish pace. In the 3.5 years since the end of the civil war close to 75% of the 365kms from Colombo to Jaffna has been paved. According to businessmen I travelled with, the travel time from Colombo to Jaffna has already been cut from around 15 hours immediately following the war, to little over 9 hours today. The businessmen estimate that this will be slashed further to little over 7 hours when all construction is completed. Only god knows what kind of boon this will mean to the Northern economy, let alone how much it will mean for consumers in the major city centers.
This is an amazing effort for a country with a GDP of only $59 Billion USD. An Island that has spent the last 30 years doing little else but waging war with itself. This is especially amazing when you consider the region in question has been hardly touched or developed in that time, as the rebel rulers focused all their resources on the war effort.
In Colombo itself, the previously horrific traffic has been improved through the introduction of an ingenious one way system, the building of new traffic lights and traffic circles and the repaving of previously decrepit roads. As a side note, previous visitors to Colombo will be amazed by how much cleaner the streets are. It is not yet the next Singapore, but the transformation is breathtaking.
In the south a brand spanking new harbour has been built to take advantage of Sri Lanka’s strategic position in relation to shipping lanes. But most importantly, a new highway has been built linking Colombo to the new harbour. This is the first highway in Sri Lanka, and marks a period of new prosperity, where car ownership is increasingly possible for a burgeoning middle class.
But roadworks and infrastructure are not the only tricks up Sri Lanka’s sleeve. New apartment buildings and office blocks are popping up all over the country, and especially in Colombo. New hotels are breaking ground, including some financed by well known international chains. And in the six weeks I covered financial news, I personally attended at least 10 launches of new stores and products.
In the last three years Sri Lanka has successfully thrown off the shackles of its 27 year civil war and is optimistically investing in its own future. Its economy is booming, its cities are cleaner, its infastructure is being addressed, a middle class is forming, and it is attracting international business concerns. In short, Sri Lanka is a country under construction.