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Should we be aware of development projects?

In the year 1972, the United Nations General Assembly instituted World Development Information Day, coinciding with United Nations Day on 24 October. This is a day established with the objective of drawing attention to the world public opinion on development problems and the necessity of strengthening international co-operation to solve them. With an abundance of funding coming in and new causes being promoted on social media daily, this week we decided to take a look at the general level of awareness on development causes within Sri Lanka. 

Sri Lanka is a lower middle-income country with a gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of $ 3,852 (2019) and a total population of 21.8 million. With several hits on the economy as a result of the pandemic and a severe foreign exchange shortage that is exerting pressure on the exchange rate, priorities of the authorities may have shifted from the development causes. Urgent policy measures have been required to stabilise and to address risks to debt sustainability and external stability.

However, there is a portion of the annual budget allocated for development, and there are a range of humanitarian buffs dedicated to improving their cause in these hard times. Given the situation, we reached out to Sriyal Nilanka, an advocate for people living with HIV and a social activist, to get an idea of the significance of making information available on both ongoing and upcoming development causes. 

Sriyal Nilanka

We asked him why awareness and building public opinion on certain development projects was necessary, to which he said: “Development sector projects are solutions for problems we have as humans. They are about protecting our rights, improving access to food, shelter, and a clean environment; it’s about keeping the planet we live in safe, to pass it on to the next generations. As we carry out our work for communities, making sure they are equally part of the process and are involved through the programmes is crucial for the sustainability and effectiveness of our work. It also makes it easier for implementers to smoothly carry out their work.” He drew an example from the HIV-related awareness created and added that the increased responsiveness led people to be aware of the situation. 

He further added: “Increased public awareness about ART (antiretroviral therapy) treatment has been highly successful in preventing new HIV infections. The increased awareness about prevention programmes is drawing in more hidden community members to access services. As science progressed, if we didn’t inform the public and involve the communities to spread the word, the stigma surrounding HIV wouldn’t have shifted to where it is today. In my experience, development sector programmes without adequate public involvement are great solutions for evolved problems.”

We further chatted with some members of the public on if they believed having access to information and general knowledge on development was important to these causes and the development of the country as a whole. 

Naomi Jacob

Attorney-at-Law Naomi Jacob shared: “Development causes are important to help marginalised communities with certain issues that they have faced in society at large. There is a portion of the annual budget allocated for these causes. Therefore, I believe that creating awareness will only expand the chances of these projects succeeding, as it will optimise the understanding communities will have about the significance of these causes.”

Medical Officer Haritha Muruge said: “I believe awareness of these projects is extremely important. Firstly, because that is how you keep track of the progress made. Transparency in all the proceedings when carrying out development work not only motivates others to develop similar projects, it also gives them a sense of guidance. Secondly, this would help those in need to be made aware of the causes and enable them to reach out for support. For example, a female sanitation project conducted in rural areas will not only give a better idea to women and girls on their sanitation needs but also encourage them to tell others who may require any support, medical or financial.”