Sri Lanka is an island nation located in the Indian Ocean, just off the southeastern coast of India. Despite its modest size - slightly larger than the state of West Virginia - Sri Lanka has a population of about 20 million people, almost equal to the population of Texas. The island is rich in natural resources, and has a diverse economy based on agriculture, mining, fishing, manufacturing, and tourism. On becoming an independent nation in 1948 Sri Lanka (formerly called Ceylon) seemed to be headed for a future as a stable and prosperous democracy. Since the 1970s, however, the country has been torn by violent struggles between the two main ethnic groups, Sinhalese and Tamils that make up its population. Sri Lanka suffered severe damage and loss of life from the tsunami of 2004; what effect that disaster will have on the country's political future remains to be seen.
The island of Sri Lanka measures about 255 miles (415 km.) from north to south, and about 135 miles (220 km.) from east to west, with a total land area of about 25,300 square miles
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(65,600 square km.). It has more than 830 miles (1340 km.) of coastline. The island is ringed by a broad coastal plain, rising to an inland terrain of gently rolling hills. A range of mountains dominates the south-central interior, with the highest peak, Mt. Piduruthalagala, reaching more than 8200 feet (2524 meters) in height. Located between 5 and 10 degrees latitude north of the equator, Sri Lanka has a tropical climate dominated by two monsoon seasons. The summer monsoon lasts from mid-May to October, when winds from the southwest bring rain from the Indian Ocean to the southern and western parts of the island. During the winter monsoon, from December through March, winds from the northeast bring rain from the Bay of Bengal to northern and eastern regions. Monsoon rains are constant and heavy, with up to 100 inches of rain per month falling during the summer monsoon in the southwest. October-November and mid-March to mid-May are inter monsoon seasons, with less rainfall. The climate is hot and humid for much of the year, but is cooler in the highlands.
The proximity of Sri Lanka to S India resulted in many Tamil invasions. The Chola of S India conquered Anuradhapura in the early 11th cent. and made Pollonarrua their capital. The Sinhalese soon regained power, but in the 12th cent. a Tamil kingdom arose in the north, and the Sinhalese were driven to the southwest. Arab traders, drawn by the island's spices, arrived in the 12th and 13th cent.; their descendants are the Muslim Moors.
Communal violence in Sri Lanka often appears to have an ancient history. Sinhala and Tamil communities in Sri Lanka both tend to view their relationship in terms of histories which stretch back for at least 2,500 years. These histories buttress the opposing territorial claims of the two communities, and make conflict between them seems inevitable. For Sinhala, history justifies their claim to impose their rule over the whole island of Lanka. For Tamils, history is used to justify demands, in the part of degree of autonomy for Tamil-dominated areas, and today for total separation from the Sinhal dominated parts of the country.
The Portuguese conquered the coastal areas in the early 16th cent. and introduced the Roman Catholic religion. By the mid-17th cent. the Dutch had taken over the Portuguese possessions and the rich spice trade. In 1795 the Dutch possessions were occupied by the British, who made the island, then known as Ceylon, a crown colony in 1798. In 1815 the island was brought under one rule for the first time when the central area, previously under the rule of Kandy, was conquered. Under the British, tea, coffee, and rubber plantations were developed, and schools, including a university, were opened. A movement for independence arose during World War I. The constitution of 1931 granted universal adult suffrage to the inhabitants; but demands for independence continued, and in 1946 a more liberal constitution was enacted. Full independence was finally granted to the Ceylon on Feb. 4, 1948, with dominion status in the Commonwealth of Nations.
Many forms of Sri Lankan arts and crafts take inspiration from the Island's long and lasting Buddhist culture which in turn has absorbed and adopted countless regional and local traditions. In most instances Sri Lankan art originates from religious beliefs, and are represented in many forms such as painting, sculpture and architecture. Sri Lanka's culture also revolves around religion. The Buddhist community of Sri Lanka observes Poya Days, which are also important days of prayers to the Hindus, once per month according to the Lunar calendar. Sri Lankans are very religious because the history of the island has been involved with religion numerous times.
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The country's economy has traditionally been based on agriculture, which now contributes less than 20% to the gross domestic product and employs about a third of the work force. The emphasis is on export crops such as tea, rubber, and coconuts (all plantation-grown). Cinnamon, cardamom, pepper, cloves, nutmeg, citronella, tobacco, cocoa, and coffee are also exported. Rice, sugarcane, grains, pulses, oilseed, fruit, and vegetables are grown for local use and consumption. Petroleum refining is important, and amorphous graphite, precious and semiprecious gems, mineral sands, clay, and limestone are mined. Port construction, telecommunications, and offshore insurance and banking are also important industries. Remittances from Sri Lankans working abroad, mainly in the Middle East, contribute significantly to the economy. The island's swift rivers have considerable hydroelectric potential.
Historically, industry centered chiefly on the processing of agricultural products, but textiles and garments are now Sri Lanka's biggest export. Sri Lanka has a persistent balance of trade problem, however, and the country is dependent on large amounts of foreign aid. Although coastal lagoons provide many sheltered harbors, only S Sri Lanka lies on the main world shipping routes. The port of Colombo, on which most of the country's railroads converge, handles most of the foreign trade. Exports include textiles and apparel, tea and spices, diamonds, emeralds, rubies, coconut products, rubber goods, and fish. Textile fabrics, mineral products, petroleum, foodstuffs, machinery, and transportation equipment are imported. The United States, India, and Great Britain are the largest trading partners.
Sri Lanka's education structure is divided into five parts: primary, junior secondary, senior secondary, collegiate and tertiary. Due to the variety of ethnic groups in Sri Lanka, many schools teach only in either Sinhala medium or in Tamil medium and not the English medium. The elite colleges in major cities such as Colombo and Kandy, teach in all three medium. Undergraduate education in State Universities is also free but extremely limited. This is noteworthy to mention, especially because, Sri Lanka is named a third world country. However less than 16% of those qualified get admission to the State Universities and of that only half graduates.
Sri Lanka holds a unique position in South Asia as one of the first of the less developed nations to provide universal health, free education, strong gender equality, and better opportunity to social mobility. Since its independence, successive governments have implemented welfare-oriented policies and programs which have allowed Sri Lanka to achieve relatively high standards of social and health development in comparison with countries of similar levels of economic development. As a result of this, the country has made significant improvements in social welfare, both in the development of public health care and education systems. The attainment by Sri Lanka of a high Human Development Index (HDI=0.74) with a life expectancy at birth of 72.5 years, and a literacy rate of over 90%, has thus been a well celebrated success for a less developed country.
The health system in Sri Lanka is enriched by a mix of Allopathic, Ayurvedic, Unani and several other systems of medicine that exists together. Of these systems allopathic medicine has become dominant and is catering to the majority of the health needs of the people. As in many other countries Sri Lankan health system consists of both the state and the private sector. The Health Ministry and the Provincial Health Services provide a wide range of promotive, preventive, curative and rehabilitative health care. Sri Lanka has an extensive network of health care institutions.
Sri Lanka's two major political parties--the UNP and the SLFP--embrace democratic values, international nonalignment, and encouragement of Sinhalese culture. The SLFP, however, envisions a broader role for the state in general.
Sri Lanka has a multi-party democracy that enjoys considerable stability despite relatively high levels of political violence during its 26-year civil conflict. In May 2009, the government declared victory over the LTTE, whose terrorist activities have generally been aimed at destabilizing Sri Lanka politically, economically, and socially. Economic targets included the airport in July 2001, the Colombo World Trade Center in October 1997, and the central bank in January 1996. In January 1998, the LTTE detonated a truck bomb in Kandy, damaging the Temple of the Tooth relic, the holiest Buddhist shrine in the country. After a lull following the 2002 ceasefire, LTTE-perpetrated terrorist bombings directed against politicians and civilian targets became more common in Colombo, Kandy, and elsewhere in the country. LTTE attacks on key political figures included the attempted assassinations of Social Affairs Minister Douglas Devananda in November 2007 and of Secretary of Defense Gothabaya Rajapaksa in December 2006, the assassination of Army General Kulatunga in June 2006, the attempted assassination of Army Commander General Fonseka in April 2006, the assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar in August 2005, the killing of the Industrial Development Minister by suicide bombing in June 2000, and the December 1999 attempted assassination of President Kumaratunga. The LTTE is also suspected of being behind the assassinations of two government ministers in early 2008.
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There is a significant imbalance existing in the distribution of current staff in various work places. Specifically the number and the rate of health personnel in the conflict affected North and East is extremely low while Colombo, Kandy and Galle have higher concentrations because of tertiary care health facilities. The migration of health human resources, on the other hand, is a serious problem, especially for medical officers. Some medical officers move to private hospitals or overseas to seek better salary and work environment. Regarding nurses, the human resources drain can be also seen. Some nurses tend to go to foreign countries, administrative work or private sector to seek better salary. One of the big issues in human resources is that there is no overall human resources policy and development plan existing in the country mainly due to a lack of an organisation at the national level to take the initiative and the lead.
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2. Spencer, Jonathan. Sri Lanka:history and the roots of conflict. Ed. Jonathan Spencer. Abingdon: Routledge, 1990.
3. "Sri Lanka." The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2008. Encyclopedia.com. 23 Feb. 2010 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.
4. "Sri Lanka." Wikipedia. 20 Feb. 2010. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sri_Lanka>.