Sri Lanka Terrain: mostly low, flat to rolling plain; mountains in south-central interior; Natural Resources: limestone, graphite, mineral sands, gems, phosphates, clay, hydropower; Natural Hazards: occasional cyclones and tornadoes; Population: 21,481,334 (July 2012 est.)


Introduction : Background

The first Sinhalese arrived in Sri Lanka late in the 6th century B.C., probably from northern India. Buddhism was introduced in about the mid-third century B.C., and a great civilization developed at the cities of Anuradhapura (kingdom from circa 200 B.C. to circa A.D. 1000) and Polonnaruwa (from about 1070 to 1200). In the 14th century, a south Indian dynasty established a Tamil kingdom in northern Sri Lanka. The coastal areas of the island were controlled by the Portuguese in the 16th century and by the Dutch in the 17th century. The island was ceded to the British in 1796, became a crown colony in 1802, and was formally united under British rule by 1815. As Ceylon, it became independent in 1948; its name was changed to Sri Lanka in 1972. Tensions between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil separatists erupted into war in 1983. After two decades of fighting, the government and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) formalized a cease-fire in February 2002 with Norway brokering peace negotiations. Violence between the LTTE and government forces intensified in 2006, but the government regained control of the Eastern Province in 2007. By May 2009, the government announced that its military had defeated the remnants of the LTTE. Since the end of the conflict, the government has enacted an ambitious program of economic development projects, many of which are financed by loans from the Government of China. In addition to efforts to reconstruct its economy, the government has resettled more than 95% of those civilians who were displaced during the final phase of the conflict and released the vast majority of former LTTE combatants captured by Government Security Forces. At the same time, there has been little progress on more contentious and politically difficult issues such as reaching a political settlement with Tamil elected representatives and holding accountable those alleged to have been involved in human rights violations at the end of the war.

People and Society

Population 21,481,334 (July 2012 est.)
Languages Sinhala (official and national language) 74%, Tamil (national language) 18%, other 8%
note: English is commonly used in government and is spoken competently by about 10% of the population
Religions Buddhist 69.1%, Muslim 7.6%, Hindu 7.1%, Christian 6.2%, unspecified 10% (2001 census provisional data)
Median Age total: 30.8 years
male: 29.7 years
female: 31.8 years (2011 est.)
Age Structure 0-14 years: 24.9% (male 2,705,953/female 2,599,717)
15-64 years: 67.2% (male 6,993,668/female 7,313,440)
65 years and over: 7.9% (male 720,219/female 950,916) (2011 est.)


Government Type republic
Capital name: Colombo
geographic coordinates: 6 56 N, 79 51 E
time difference: UTC+5.5 (10.5 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
note: Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte (legislative capital)
Legal System mixed legal system of Roman-Dutch civil law, English common law, and Jaffna Tamil customary law


Location Southern Asia, island in the Indian Ocean, south of India
Area – Comparative slightly larger than West Virginia
Area total: 65,610 sq km
land: 64,630 sq km
water: 980 sq km
Climate tropical monsoon; northeast monsoon (December to March); southwest monsoon (June to October)
Terrain mostly low, flat to rolling plain; mountains in south-central interior
Natural Hazards occasional cyclones and tornadoes
Natural Resources limestone, graphite, mineral sands, gems, phosphates, clay, hydropower


Economy – Overview

Sri Lanka continues to experience strong economic growth, driven by large-scale reconstruction and development projects following the end of the 26-year conflict with the LTTE. Sri Lanka is pursuing a combination of government directed policies, private investment, both foreign and domestic, to spur growth in disadvantaged areas, develop small and medium enterprises, and increase agricultural productivity. The government struggles with high debt interest payments, a bloated civil service, and historically high budget deficits. However recent reforms to the tax code have resulted in higher revenue and lower budget deficits in recent years. The 2008-09 global financial crisis and recession exposed Sri Lanka’s economic vulnerabilities and nearly caused a balance of payments crisis. Growth slowed to 3.8% in 2009. Economic activity rebounded strongly with the end of the war and an IMF agreement, resulting in two straight years of high growth in 2010 and 2011. Per capita income of $5,600 on a purchasing power parity basis is among the highest in the region.

GDP (Official Exchange Rate) $58.8 billion (2011 est.)
Budget revenues: $8.931 billion
expenditures: $12.93 billion (2011 est.)
Current Account Balance -$2.808 billion (2011 est.)
-$1.472 billion (2010 est.)
Imports – Commodities petroleum, textiles, machinery and transportation equipment, building materials, mineral products, foodstuffs
Exports – Commodities textiles and apparel, tea and spices; rubber manufactures; precious stones; coconut products, fish


Broadcast Media government operates 2 television channels and a radio network; multi-channel satellite and cable TV subscription services are obtainable; 8 private TV stations and about a dozen private radio stations in operation (2008)
Internet Users 1.777 million (2009)
Internet Hosts 8,652 (2011)
Telephones – Mobile Cellular 17.359 million (2010)
Telephones – Main Lines in Use 3.579 million (2010)


Airports 18 (2010)
Roadways total: 91,907 km (2008)
Waterways 160 km (primarily on rivers in southwest) (2008)
Ports and Terminals Colombo
Merchant Marine total: 22
by type: bulk carrier 4, cargo 14, chemical tanker 1, petroleum tanker 3
foreign-owned: 5 (Germany 5) (2010)


Manpower Fit for Military Service males age 16-49: 4,177,432
females age 16-49: 4,574,833 (2010 est.)

Transitional Issues

Disputes – International none
Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons IDPs: 460,000 (both Tamils and non-Tamils displaced due to long-term civil war between the government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)) (2007)