Launch of the Report on Understanding Multidimensional Vulnerabilities

First citizen science-driven MVI capturing vulnerabilities beyond traditional income-based measures in Sri Lanka

September 6, 2023


Hon. Susil Premajayantha, Chief Guest, Leader of the House, and Minister of Education; Honourable Ministers, State Ministers, Governor of the Central Bank, secretaries, Governor of the Northern Province, senior government officials, Excellencies, representatives of the civil society organizations, academic institutions, and international and UN agencies and distinguished invitees,

It is my pleasure to welcome you all to the launch of Sri Lanka’s first Multi-dimensional Vulnerability Index or MVI. I would like to sincerely thank you for your presence with us and your interest in the MVI.

We gather here today in a world of uncertainty, ambiguity, and complexity, where crises intertwine and echo in complex patterns. The global pandemic was a stern teacher, especially for policymakers and government leaders, emphasizing the importance of swift, data-driven, and evidence-based decisions in the face of adversity.

From climate emergency, the cost of living crisis, and the impact of the war in Ukraine, the poly-crises we face today contributed to the loss of gains we made in human development and SDG attainment. For the past two years, the Human Development Index has regressed. Ahead of the historic SDG Summit next month, the most recent published UN report indicates that only 12 % of the targets are likely to be attained by 2030.

The patterns we see globally, also resonate with our experiences in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka has experienced a series of setbacks in the recent past. From the Easter Sunday attacks in 2019 to COVID-19, which crippled the tourism sector, and then compounded by the economic crisis that followed in 2022, families and communities have borne the brunt, especially the most vulnerable.

These events have not only reshaped the socio-economic landscape but have also given rise to new pockets of vulnerability, putting existing resilience structures of the Sri Lankan communities under stress.

While these challenges unfold, erratic climate patterns and an increase in the frequency of disasters further increase vulnerability for a farming community and require proactive anticipatory planning and response in the face of the climate emergency. 

To illustrate some of the impacts we know up to now, the World Bank data showed that the poverty rate has almost doubled in one year between 2021 and 22. The WFP report shows that over 6 million Sri Lankans are food-insecure and access to food was limited to many due to unaffordability in a period of hyperinflation in 2022.

The impact of these hardships varies widely, exposing profound disparities between individuals and households. Those who face abrupt, devastating shocks are increasingly likely to be trapped in cycles of deprivation.

The long-term, generational impact of this crisis is unknown. The situation calls for timely and bold interventions to avoid irreversible consequences.

As the government has already initiated numerous reform programmes, the responses must reflect our deep understanding of how people are impacted and mirror its ambition in a multi-faceted manner.

To bridge this knowledge gap, UNDP, embarked on Sri Lanka's inaugural National Citizen Survey 2022-2023. This monumental effort sought to capture the realities faced by over 25,000 households across the nation, spanning its entire breadth. We quickly realized the value of examining multidimensional vulnerabilities rather than relying solely on traditional poverty indicators like income. This approach is pivotal in assessing the extent of vulnerabilities, particularly in times of fast-evolving and compounding crises.

We have also ensured to complement the MVI with rich data and insights emanating from extensive conversations with community members across the country. A team of researchers has been engaged in deep-listing to collect real-life stories of hardships that the families and communities have experienced.

The findings highlighted in this policy report have far-reaching implications – both for short and long-term actions. Therefore, it is our sincere hope that the voices of the people will directly influence the focus of the reform agenda, policy and programmatic interventions and the direction of available resources to optimize the impact, particularly in the context of fiscal challenges.

As the Government is preparing the budget for 2024-25, we hope that the adoption of a multi-dimensional vulnerability index will help grow the economy while protecting the most vulnerable. The district-disaggregated data also sheds light on the different approaches that are required to meet their specific needs. 
In this regard, I hope you will widely disseminate the findings and recommendations to stimulate conversations that can lead to concrete action and interventions.

Before I close, I would like to thank OPHI for the technical rigour provided under the leadership of Dr. Sabina Alkire, Director of OPHI, along with Tshoki Zangmo, and Frank Vollmer.  

I would also like to thank Professor Siri Hettige the co-author of this report, and members of the Advisory Panel, Dr. Sonali Deraniyagala, Dr. Indrajit Coomaraswamy, and Dr. Ramani Gunatilaka. We greatly benefited from the technical advice provided by the Department of Census and Statistics.

Today’s event would not have been complete without the presence of the chief guest and distinguished individuals who have agreed to be part of the panel discussion later today. We are deeply humbled.

I look forward to the deliberations this morning. Thank you for your presence and interest in the MVI.