Sri Lanka Travel Information

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Sinharaja Forest Reserve
Central Highlands of Sri Lanka

Facts About Sri Lanka

Background: Occupied by the Portuguese in the 16th century and the Dutch in the 17th century, the island was ceded to the British in 1802. As Ceylon it became independent in 1948; its name was changed in 1972. Tensions between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil separatists erupted in violence in the mid-1980s. Tens of thousands have died in an ethnic war that continues to fester.
Government type: republic
Capital: Colombo
Currency: 1 Sri Lankan rupee (LKR) = 100 cents

Geography of Sri Lanka

Location: Southern Asia, island in the Indian Ocean, south of India
Geographic coordinates: 7 00 N, 81 00 E
Area:
total: 65,610 sq km
land: 64,740 sq km
water: 870 sq km
Land boundaries: 0 km
Coastline: 1,340 km
Maritime claims:
contiguous zone: 24 nm
continental shelf: 200 nm or to the edge of the continental margin
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
territorial sea: 12 nm
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
Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Indian Ocean 0 m
highest point: Pidurutalagala 2,524 m
Natural resources: limestone, graphite, mineral sands, gems, phosphates, clay, hydropower
Land use:
arable land: 14%
permanent crops: 15%
permanent pastures: 7%
forests and woodland: 32%
other: 32% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land: 5,500 sq km (1993 est.)
Natural hazards: occasional cyclones and tornadoes
Environment - current issues: deforestation; soil erosion; wildlife populations threatened by poaching and urbanization; coastal degradation from mining activities and increased pollution; freshwater resources being polluted by industrial wastes and sewage runoff; waste disposal; air pollution in Colombo.
Environment - international agreements:
party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: Marine Life Conservation
Geography - note: strategic location near major Indian Ocean sea lanes

People of Sri Lanka

The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon) is an island in the Indian Ocean approximately 28 kilometers (18 mi.) off the southeastern coast of India with a population of about 19 million. Density is highest in the southwest where Colombo, the country's main port and industrial center, is located. The net population growth is about 1.4%.

Sri Lanka is ethnically, linguistically, and religiously diverse. Sinhalese make up 74% of the population and are concentrated in the densely populated southwest. Ceylon Tamils, citizens whose South Indian ancestors have lived on the island for centuries, total about 12% and live predominantly in the north and east.

Indian Tamils, a distinct ethnic group, represent about 6% of the population. The British brought them to Sri Lanka in the 19th century as tea and rubber plantation workers, and they remain concentrated in the "tea country" of south-central Sri Lanka. In accordance with a 1964 agreement with India, Sri Lanka granted citizenship to 230,000 "stateless" Indian Tamils in 1988. Under the pact, India granted citizenship to the remainder, some 200,000 of whom now live in India. Another 75,000 Indian Tamils, who themselves or whose parents once applied for Indian citizenship, now wish to remain in Sri Lanka. The government has stated these Tamils will not be forced to return to India, although they are not technically citizens of Sri Lanka.

Other minorities include Muslims (both Moors and Malays), at about 7% of the population; Burghers, who are descendants of European colonists, principally from the Netherlands and the U.K.; and aboriginal Veddahs.

Most Sinhalese are Buddhist; most Tamils are Hindu. The majority of Sri Lanka's Muslims practice Sunni Islam. Sizable minorities of both Sinhalese and Tamils are Christians, most of whom are Roman Catholic. The 1978 constitution, while assuring freedom of religion, grants primacy to Buddhism.

Sinhala, an Indo-European language, is the native tongue of the Sinhalese. Tamils and most Muslims speak Tamil, part of the South Indian Dravidian linguistic group. Use of English has declined since independence, but it continues to be spoken by many in the middle and upper middle classes, particularly in Colombo. The government is seeking to reverse the decline in the use of English, mainly for economic but also for political reasons. Both Sinhala and Tamil are official languages.

Population: 20,064,776 (July 2005 est.)
Age structure:
0-14 years: 26% (male 2,605,251; female 2,490,416)
15-64 years: 67% (male 6,285,118; female 6,606,196)
65 years and over: 7% (male 602,470; female 649,124) 
Population growth rate: 0.89% 
Birth rate: 16.78 births/1,000 population 
Death rate: 6.43 deaths/1,000 population 
Net migration rate: -1.47 migrant(s)/1,000 population 
Infant mortality rate: 16.51 deaths/1,000 live births 
Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 71.83 years
male: 69.33 years
female: 74.45 years 
Total fertility rate: 1.98 children born/woman 
Nationality:
noun: Sri Lankan(s)
adjective: Sri Lankan
Ethnic groups: Sinhalese 74%, Tamil 18%, Moor 7%, Burgher, Malay, and Vedda 1%
Religions: Buddhist 70%, Hindu 15%, Christian 8%, Muslim 7% (1999)
Languages: Sinhala (official and national language) 74%, Tamil (national language) 18%
note: English is commonly used in government and is spoken competently by about 10% of the population
Literacy:
definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 90.2%
male: 93.4%
female: 87.2% (1995 est.)

SOURCES: The World Factbook, U.S. Department of State

Mother Earth Travel > Country Index > Sri Lanka > Map Economy History