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PRESS RELEASE September 17, 2020

Sri Lanka Progressed in Human Capital Gains but Can Accelerate with better Nutrition and Learning Outcomes

COLOMBO, September 17, 2020 – The World Bank Group’s 2020 Human Capital Index, released today, finds that a child born in Sri Lanka today will be 60 percent as productive when she grows up as compared to if she enjoyed complete education and full health. This is higher than the average for South Asia region and lower middle-income countries.

Investments in human capital—the knowledge, skills, and health that people accumulate over their lives—are key to unlocking a child’s potential and to improving economic growth in every country.

“In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, investing in people is more vital than ever, as it can lay the strong foundations needed for the recovery and for resilient growth,” said Faris H. Hadad-Zervos, World Bank Country Director for Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka. “Stunting due to chronic under-nutrition and the need for higher quality learning are the two areas of the Human Capital Index in which Sri Lanka has an opportunity to accelerate progress, especially as a country on the threshold of upper-middle income status.”

To help address these gaps, a strategic focus on improving nutrition and enhancing learning in less developed regions of the country is needed, along with consistent measurement of stunting and internationally comparable learning outcomes to inform policy development and track progress in human capital development over time.

Globally, due to the pandemic's impact, most children – more than 1 billion – have been out of school and could lose, on average, half a year of schooling, translating into considerable monetary losses in the future. Data also shows significant disruptions to essential health services for women and children, with many children missing out on crucial vaccinations. The economic impact of the pandemic has been particularly deep for women and for the most disadvantaged families, leaving many vulnerable to food insecurity and poverty.

The 2020 Human Capital Index includes health and education data up to March 2020 for 174 countries covering 98 percent of the world’s population, providing a pre-pandemic baseline on the health and education status of children.

The analysis finds that human capital outcomes for girls are on average higher than for boys. However, this has not translated into comparable opportunities to use human capital in the labor market. On average, employment rates are 40 percentage points lower for women than for men in South Asia. Moreover, the pandemic could exacerbate risks of gender-based violence, child marriage and adolescent pregnancy, all of which further reduce opportunities for learning and empowerment for women and girls.

“Sri Lanka and the World Bank have worked together for decades to invest in human capital and today these hard-won gains are at risk,” said Chiyo Kanda, Country Manager for Sri Lanka and the Maldives. “We will continue  supporting Sri Lanka to expand the coverage and quality of health services in underserved areas, boost early childhood development and learning outcomes, improve higher education, and support vulnerable families with social protection measures to mitigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The World Bank Group is working closely with governments all over the world to develop long-term solutions to protect and invest in people during and after the pandemic. In Sri Lanka the Bank is supporting initiatives to increase access to early childhood education and care, to improve learning in general education, and to strengthen the relevance of higher education for economic development. The Bank is also helping strengthen the efficiency of social safety nets to support vulnerable families and households. In addition, the Bank is assisting the government to strengthen health systems, including to respond to the challenges of the Covid19 pandemic.


The World Bank Group, one of the largest sources of funding and knowledge for developing countries, is taking broad, fast action to help developing countries strengthen their pandemic response. We are supporting public health interventions, working to ensure the flow of critical supplies and equipment, and helping the private sector continue to operate and sustain jobs. We will be deploying up to $160 billion in financial support over 15 months to help more than 100 countries protect the poor and vulnerable, develop human capital, support businesses, and bolster economic recovery. This includes $50 billion of new IDA resources through grants and highly concessional loans.”


Dilinika Peiris
Washington D.C.
Diana Chung