Colombo Urban Lab

Debt or Disconnection: Prioritising Energy Justice in Economic Recovery

In Part One of this article, we considered the proposed electricity tariff revision from the perspective of the urban poor in Colombo, arguing that the revisions failed to account for ground realities faced by domestic consumers, both in terms of understanding the financial pressures of the economic crisis as well as how electricity usage has changed in response. In light of the approved tariff increase that averages at 75% in all categories, we take a closer look at low-consumer tariffs, and offer recommendations that uphold principles of energy justice.

Debt or Disconnection: CEB’s Tariff Hikes and the Urban Poor

The Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) in July sought an increase in tariffs from the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL), proposing a regressive scheme of tariffs that will see the lowest consumers burdened with the highest increases in rates. The rationale for this revision is that the CEB (excluding LECO costs) requires an 82.4% increase in revenue to meet their forecasted costs for 2022. The proposed raise is likely to increase energy poverty among a population that is already burdened by inflation with a Consumer Price Index (CPI) that is nearly at 60%. Domestic consumers who use fewer than 30 units of electricity per month will have their bills increase by 835% to Rs. 507.65 from the current Rs. 54.27. Overall, it has been identified that 50% of domestic electricity consumers in Sri Lanka – 3.14 million households who use fewer than 60 units a month – will face the greatest increase in electricity bills due to the proposed increase in tariffs.  Women who already perform the majority of housework will bear the brunt of the planned price increase. The gendered impacts of energy poverty will constrain a generation of women and girls, stripping them of time and inhibiting their access to education and the workforce. In a deteriorating economy that places a massive and disproportionate burden on the urban poor, these tariff hikes represent an additional cost that will increase energy poverty and even threaten access to the grid. The tariff hikes are insensitive to the changing consumption patterns of electricity among residents in urban areas, as well as to the significant debt that many households have already fallen into. Beyond the tariff hikes, any policy recommendations regarding support to families during this crisis period must be mindful of these diverse consumption patterns.

From Bad to Worse: Understanding and Supporting Colombo’s Urban Poor Families in Crisis

Low-income settlements in Colombo experienced greater food insecurity even before the pandemic, with 72% of households being food insecure. Conditions are going from bad to worse due to the current economic crisis. In this article, researchers from the Colombo Urban Lab detail the food insecurity and precarity of urban poor households through COVID-19 lockdowns and the current economic crisis and presents research driven, evidence based recommendations for immediate term support that the State must provide in order to ensure some relief for households. They argue that the proposed measures should be universal to every household below a particular income or need threshold, and not targeted as that would only exacerbate existing divisions in communities.

Budget Makers for the Country Must Listen to the Budget Makers of the Home

Since the first lockdown in March 2020, most conversations we have had with working class poor communities in Colombo have been dominated by one topic – budgets and listening to families talk about how they prioritise their expenditure based on their needs and their income. How do we take the everyday struggles of people to get by or get the job done, only to be faced with a state institution also struggling for resources and turn it into an experience where people’s needs can be met with well-funded and equipped institutions?

Housing in a Pandemic: Need for New Methods of Engagement

One of the biggest lessons from this COVID period has been that our house is the safest place to be in and that our surroundings, even the ability to see trees or grow something in a small garden, for a woman to go out for a walk feeling safe or for children to play freely are all things that everyone should be entitled to. In our advocacy and the way we frame our arguments we have to find ways to use data and various intersections to make our points clear, even in a court room. Some things can’t be quantified nor are they tangible – so how do we translate that into a language that policy makers can understand?

Involuntary Resettlement in Sri Lanka – Urgent Need for Reform

Dispossession can have generational impacts on communities if their relocation process is not done in a proper way. The loss of their home and land that they have invested in, loss of livelihood and community and their entire of way of life is a massive upheaval. The words involuntary resettlement alone addresses that the act is not a fair one or a just one to begin with, and we need to ensure that communities are not left worse off post relocation.