Sri Lanka is hit by increasingly frequent and severe shocks. At the start of 2017, the country suffered its worst drought in four decades. Floods followed in May, taking 219 lives and damaging nearly 80,000 homes.The Sri Lankan government has the capacity to address immediate needs of disaster-affected households through the distribution of food and shelter and insurance payouts, but programs for recovery and reintegration are more ad-hoc.The Post-Disaster Needs Assessment conducted after the floods noted that a lack of data on households in affected areas made it difficult to ascertain their needs, and identified a need for improved inter-ministerial coordination on disasters.
Improving disaster response is an urgent development priority for Sri Lanka, and one recognized by the government in its Vision 2025 strategy. Shocks like floods and droughts disproportionately affect the poorest and most vulnerable households, who are least able to cope with shocks.
There is an emerging consensus on the need to build the resilience of vulnerable households before disasters occur, and to develop systems to more rapidly deliver assistance to affected households in their aftermath. To achieve this, Sri Lanka will need to ensure its cash transfer programs are scalable, and that livelihood programs are equipped to address the needs of disaster-affected households for recovery and reintegration.
There is currently a window of opportunity to improve the delivery of disaster assistance in Sri Lanka. The country is in the process of modernizing its social safety net system with support from the World Bank. A new social registry is being developed and will be made operational later this year.
It is intended to handle the registration and selection of beneficiaries for all major welfare programs. An independent agency has been set up to select beneficiaries based on transparent and objective criteria and pay them using a more streamlined electronic payment system.