- Beyond Pomp and Pageantry: Looking at Public Markets as Lived Spaces
- New Platform Initiated for Young Professionals in Public Policy
- Breaking Point: Impact of Sri Lanka’s Economic Crisis on Colombo’s Working Class Poor
- Valuing the Catch of the Day: Towards a more Humanised Food Value Chain
- New Publication: ‘Debt for Nature Swaps: A Primer for Interested Stakeholders’
Urbanization & Cities
June 7, 2023
Beyond Pomp and Pageantry: Looking at Public Markets as Lived Spaces
The reconfiguration of Colombo’s built environment and key infrastructure has lasting consequences for the city’s food environment and people’s access to affordable and nutritious fresh produce. Public markets are more than the building in which its activities take place. They are lived spaces for people of different walks of life and facilitate more than mere commercial activities. The conceptualisation and design of these markets must also consider the lived experiences of those that work and engage with the market, in order to make them sustainable in the long run.
April 7, 2023
Breaking Point: Impact of Sri Lanka’s Economic Crisis on Colombo’s Working Class Poor
The impact of the economic crisis on the working class poor of Colombo over the past year cannot be overstated. As we highlighted in our May 2022 policy brief, most of these households that were already affected by the pandemic due to a loss of daily wage work following the imposition of COVID-19 lockdowns, were cash-strapped and struggling to make ends meet when the economic crisis hit last year. The April 2023 policy brief gives an update on the current status of working class poor households and those working in the informal sector in Colombo. This includes the impact of the electricity tariff hikes on them, a commentary on the ongoing Welfare Benefits Board enumeration of households, and recommendations on how the State and policy makers can support these families in crisis.
March 14, 2023
Valuing the Catch of the Day: Towards a more Humanised Food Value Chain
Even with limited understanding about how exactly they function, it is hard to not appreciate the capacity of markets to coordinate the movement of seafood from our oceans to our plates using the price mechanism and relationships. However, exploring upstream of the fish supply chains, does beg the question about what “relevant information” is lost when the value of fish is determined by the price mechanism. The distress of fishermen who are finding it increasingly harder afford their traditional livelihood, the plight of vendors of small fish markets where prices of fish are beyond the spending capacity of the immediate community, the loss of livelihoods of the most vulnerable of us who provide their labour at fish landing sites, and the impacts on marine life as fishermen may be forced to maximise catch to make each trip to sea economically efficient: How well does information about these aspects travel with price information? Or is this information not relevant?
January 26, 2023
Is Gig Work in Sri Lanka Enabling Female Participation in the Workforce?
While gender was not the primary focus of our gig worker survey, it was interesting to find that relatively less women were engaged in gig economy activity (i.e., similar to what is seen in the traditional workforce) despite the relative flexibility of gig work, equal pay opportunities (in most cases) and low barriers to entry. In this context, platform companies have a role to play in facilitating the participation of more women in their workforce. If gig work is to attract more female participation in the future, platforms and other stakeholders in the gig economy must address issues specifically affecting women, and also initiate discourse on broader structural and cultural changes, including on the perception that women are the only primary caregivers or home-makers, especially in developing countries like Sri Lanka.
January 13, 2023
Is Gig Work Really Part-time in Sri Lanka?: Findings from a Survey
A recent study of gig economy activity in Sri Lanka has emerged, suggesting that although gig work is generally perceived as being part-time work, in reality, gig workers actually work full-time. Despite the reputation gig work as attracted as being largely part-time work used to supplement existing income, the survey of drivers and riders in ride-hailing/ride-sharing and delivery platforms in Sri Lanka, has revealed that many workers actually work on the platform full-time. Yet, platform companies typically do not recognise such workers as ‘employees’ of the platform company and resulting low worker protection. The pandemic and economic crisis has affected these full-time workers to the extent that many were often left idle, with little to no hires and orders during the height of the pandemic and the crisis, despite engaging with the platform full-time.
September 19, 2022
Food for Thought: Rethinking Home Gardening and Subsistence Agriculture
To mitigate the rise in food insecurity, “home gardening” has emerged as a popular buzzword amongst policy makers. In May, the Minister of Agriculture encouraged the public to start growing food in their home gardens. Whilst home gardening can help improve dietary diversity and reduce the severity of food insecurity, it will, in no way, completely eradicate food insecurity for Colombo’s working class poor. It also cannot be the Government’s way of absolving themselves from Colombo’s food crisis. For those living in Colombo facing a burden of duality of both food insecurity and space restrictions, instructions to “stay at home and grow food”, is simply not enough. There needs to be more targeted focus on supporting communities that don’t have the space or resources to grow. In order to better support Colombo’s working class poor to grow food to help increase dietary diversity, and to reduce the impact of food insecurity, we have detailed some recommendations based on empirical evidence from our field work.
August 18, 2022
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.
August 7, 2022
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.
May 19, 2022
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.
December 1, 2021
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?