Colombo: The Heartbeat of Sri Lanka

March 21, 2013


Colombo’s contours are fast-changing as it becomes a vital metropolitan node in Asia. But the city’s drive to emerge as a competitive player in the global economy has been undermined by challenges such as urban flooding and run-down infrastructure. The World Bank-supported Metro Colombo Urban Development Project is an ambitious undertaking by the government of Sri Lanka to develop Colombo as the environmentally sustainable, modern capital of the nation.

  • Sri Lanka’s vision is to become an upper-middle-income economy and global hub by 2016. To achieve this, the country needs competitive and dynamic cities.
  • The Colombo metropolitan region, the commercial and financial center of the country, is home to 28% of the country’s 20 million people and accounts for about 50% of gross domestic product. There is a need to tap into the competitive advantages of the Colombo metropolitan region to accelerate growth.
  • The Metro Colombo Urban Development Project aims to enhance the competitiveness of the Colombo metropolitan region by reducing the physical and socioeconomic impacts of flooding and improving infrastructure and services.

The 2010 floods that saw the inundation of Colombo’s commercial and administrative hub resulted in high economic losses and demonstrated the need to  improve the city’s ability to cope with natural disasters. The poor design and maintenance of drainage systems, illegal encroachments on flood retention areas, and industrial pollution, combined with rapidly changing climate patterns resulting in frequent and more intense thunderstorms, are all factors that contribute to increase the risk of flooding in the city. Colombo cannot transform into a vital and successful metropolitan region if these problems are not tackled.

Unequal and inadequate distribution of services and infrastructure among local authorities within the Colombo metropolitan region, coupled with key bottlenecks in drainage, sewerage, solid waste, and urban transport infrastructure, limited financial and human resources of local authorities, and lack of coordination, have been obstacles to effective service delivery and operation and maintenance of local infrastructure services. These challenges are preventing the region from realizing its full economic potential.

The World Bank provided a loan of $213 million to Sri Lanka in the form of the Metro Colombo Urban Development Project to support the government’s long-term urban development program. The government aims to transform Colombo into a modern, world-class capital by reducing the physical and socioeconomic impacts of flooding, and improving overall capacity for operating and maintaining metropolitan and local infrastructure.

The project seeks to reduce flooding in the catchment of the Colombo Water Basin and strengthen the capacity of the four local authorities of Colombo, Dehiwela-Mt. Lavinia, Sri Jayawaradenapura-Kotte, and Kollonnawa, to rehabilitate, improve and maintain priority local infrastructure and services through selected key demonstration projects. The project is centrally managed by the Project Management Unit of the Ministry of Defense and Urban Development.

Components of the Project

Flood and Drainage Management – This will support rehabilitation and improvement of priority flood and drainage management infrastructure identified as critical to improving the drainage network in the Colombo metropolitan region. This will focus on improving the system of primary and secondary canals, retention areas, and drainage of the Colombo Water Basin by focusing on areas that have in the past contributed to creating bottlenecks in the flow of storm water, causing floods, such as under-dimensioned pumping stations, sea outfalls, and water diversions.

The project will also support the development of an Integrated Flood Management System, which is key to ensuring the long-term maintenance of the drainage network by monitoring and managing the retention/wetland areas, operation and maintenance systems for wetlands, canals, and drainage systems; monitoring and enforcing of land use planning so that the CWB can cope with floods; and improving inter-agency coordination. This component will also finance a number of demonstration projects aimed to enhance long-term sustainability of drainage investments by improving the economic value and visual qualities of water bodies through landscaping and enhanced public access to waterfront recreation spaces. 

Urban Development, Infrastructure Rehabilitation, and Capacity Building for Metro Colombo Local Authorities – This will support the local authorities of Colombo, Dehiwela-Mt. Lavinia, Sri Jayawardenapura-Kotte, and Kollonnawa to deliver priority local infrastructure services with a focus on rehabilitation/improvement of micro-drainage infrastructures, streets that contribute to improved traffic flow, and infrastructure services such as public toilets, pedestrian sidewalks, recreation spaces, and solid waste collection.

In addition, the project supports institutional strengthening of the local authorities for more efficient service delivery and operation and maintenance. Key areas of focus include developing road asset management systems, improving solid waste collection, and preparing road rehabilitation and maintenance works.

The project also supports the development of a Metropolitan Colombo City Development Strategy with studies aimed at revitalizing Colombo’s historic and cultural areas; development of an integrated master plan for the Metro Colombo Region that will include urban transport planning; development of a solid waste management strategy along with detailed studies for immediate action, and detailed studies for selected priority metropolitan services identified through the development strategy.

Implementation Support – To ensure the project is implemented effectively and to strengthen the capacity of the local authorities and agencies such as Sri Lanka Land Reclamation Development Corporation and Urban Development Authority, this component will provide the crucial management required to implement the project.