This paper investigates the nexus among poverty, ethnicity and conflict in Sri Lanka. The ethnicised conflict in Sri Lanka is embedded in and is an expression of existing social, political, economic and cultural structures. The civil war is thus not a temporary crisis, but a long-enduring feature. Rural societies in the war -affected areas are characterised by 'distressed livelihoods' or 'livelihoods at risk': They face multiple vulnerabilities caused by unfavourable state policies, environmental hazards, market-related risks and conflictrelated uncertainties which enhance the threshold of vulnerability. Households thus have to adapt to gradual deteriorating economic trends and to cope with sudden political shocks in the form of violence. In many instances, transitory poverty caused by disruptions of the war (displacement) has declined into chronic poverty.
Ethnicity plays a key role in how people perceive vulnerability and how people make use of ethnicity for livelihood strategies. Paternalistic vertical support networks which sustain ethnic exclusion gain more importance in such livelihood strategies, thus undermining inter-ethnic exchange patterns. This perpetuates a trend towards increased ethnic separation and thus contributes to exacerbate the conflict. It undermines inter-ethnic social capital and constructs a biased perception of 'the ethnic other'. The key question that this paper poses, is thus how development policy can attack poverty under such circumstances and, at the same time, support conflict ransformation towards more inclusive local-level institutions that cross et hnic boundaries.
Poverty, ethnicity and conflict in Sri Lanka, presented at Staying Poor: Chronic Poverty and Development Policy, Institute for Development Policy and Management, University of Manchester, 7-9 April 2003. Chronic Poverty Research Centre (CPRC), Manchester, UK, 22 pp.