Sunil Handunnetti: Quoted correctly, Interpreted wrong

On Oct 15, we reported the following claim made by MP Sunil Handunnetti: 74% of the population of Sri Lanka lives a rural lifestyle/in a rural setting.

According to the data from the Department of Census and Statistics (quoted in Central Bank Annual Report 2018), the percentage of the population classified as living in the rural sector is 77.4%. Handunnetti seems to have quoted this statistic (approximately) correctly.

Although his quotation of the data is correct, his interpretation is not. The Census classifies areas in Sri Lanka as ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ based purely on historical administrative labels.this classification is not adjusted to the actual urban/rural characteristics of the areas in the present day. For example, Kelaniya and Homagama are both governed by a Pradeshiya Sabha, and therefore classified as ‘rural‘, despite being major centres of urban living. Correcting for this problem, a more scientific classification by the Insititute of Policy Studies in 2016 finds that the percentage of the population living in rural settings is 56.2% not 74%. Conclusion: Handunnetti has correctly quoted a highly misleading statistic, but has not interpreted it accurately. therefore, we have classified his statement as PARTLY TRUE.

For the relevant CBSL data, see: Table 3.1, Economic and Social Statistics of Sri Lanka 2018, Central Bank of Sri Lanka, available at: https:// www.cbsl.gov.lk/.

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