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Sri Lanka

Did you know: 

The 58th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference was held in Colombo in September 2012. Sri Lanka was the first Commonwealth state to have a female prime minister. Sirimavo Bandaranaike served for three periods of office: 1960–65, 1970–77 and 1994–2000. Shehan Karunatilaka won the Commonwealth Writers’ Book Prize in 2012. Sanath Jayasuriya was Wisden Leading Cricketer in the World in 1996, Muttiah Muralitharan in 2000 and 2006, and K C Sangakkara in 2011.

Key facts

Joined Commonwealth: 
21,273,000 (2013)
p.c. growth: 4.6% p.a. 1990–2013
world ranking 73
Official language: 
Sinhala, Tamil
GMT plus 5:30hr
Sri Lanka rupee (SLRs)


65,610 sq km
Capital city: 
Population density (per sq. km): 


The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) is an island in the Indian Ocean, separated from south-east India (Tamil Nadu state) by the Palk Strait. It is almost linked to the Indian mainland by Adam’s Bridge, an atoll barrier, mostly submerged, lying between the offshore island of Mannar and India itself.

The country comprises nine provinces (from south to north): Southern (provincial capital Galle), Sabaragamuwa (Ratnapura), Western (Colombo), Uva (Badulla), Eastern (Trincomalee), Central (Kandy), North-Western (Kurunegala), North-Central (Anuradhapura) and Northern (Jaffna).

Main towns: 

Colombo (commercial capital; Western Province; pop. 561,314 in 2012), Sri Jayewardenepura–Kotte (administrative capital; greater Colombo, 107,925), Maharagama (greater Colombo, 196,423), Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia (greater Colombo, 184,468), Moratuwa (greater Colombo, 168,280), Negombo (142,499), Kalmunai (99,893), Kandy (Central, 98,828), Galle (Southern, 86,333), Batticaloa (86,227), Jaffna (Northern, 80,829), Daluguma (74,400), Katunayaka (61,228), Anuradhapura (North-Central, 50,595), Trincomalee (Eastern, 48,351), Ratnapura (Sabaragamuwa, 47,105), Badulla (Uva, 42,237), Vavuniya (34,816), Kurunegala (North-Western, 24,833), Dambulla (23,814), Chavakachcheri (16,129), Point Pedro (13,300) and Valvettithurai (7,300).


There are 114,090 km of roads (80 per cent paved) and about 1,460 km of railway. Rail links exist between the major towns. The lines run from Colombo north along the coast to Puttalam, north via Kurunegala and Anuradhapura to Mannar and to Jaffna; north-east to Trincomalee and Batticaloa; east to Kandy via Gampaha; and south along the coast to Galle and Matara.

The international ports are at Colombo, Galle, Talaimannar and Trincomalee. Bandaranaike international airport is 32 km from Colombo.

The larger domestic airports are at Ratmalana (Colombo) in the south and Jaffna in the north.

International relations: 

Sri Lanka is a member of the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation, Non-Aligned Movement, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, United Nations and World Trade Organization.


Beyond the coastal plains, Sri Lanka’s topography is dominated by an outstandingly beautiful central mountain massif of gneiss rock, with the highest point at Pidurutalagala (2,524m). The holy Adam’s Peak (2,243m) is so called from a mark at the top in the likeness of a human footprint, variously attributed as the print of the Buddha, Vishnu or Adam, and is a place of pilgrimage. The coastal plains are broader in the north, tapering off in the long low-lying Jaffna peninsula. Several fast-flowing non-navigable rivers arise in the mountains. The Mahaweli Ganga, from which hydroelectric power is obtained, is the longest at 322km.

One of the most violent earthquakes ever recorded occurred on 26 December 2004 in the Indian Ocean west of Sumatra generating a tsunami that swamped the east and south coasts of Sri Lanka causing approximately 31,000 deaths and devastation of the coastal area.


Tropical. The lowlands are always hot, particularly March–May. The highlands are cooler. During December and January there is occasional frost on very high ground – for example, at Nuwara Eliya. The dry season is March–mid-May. The south-west monsoon season lasts from mid-May–September, the north-east monsoon season November–March.


The most significant environmental issues are: deforestation; soil erosion; coastal degradation as a result of mining activities and increased pollution; pollution of freshwater resources by industrial wastes and sewage; air pollution in Colombo; and the threat to wildlife populations of poaching and urbanisation.


Forest covers 29 per cent of the land area, having declined at 1.2 per cent p.a. 1990–2010. Vegetation is rich and luxuriant, with a great variety of flowers, trees, creepers and flowering shrubs. The flora of Sri Lanka were described by Linnaeus in 1747 from specimens collected by a fellow botanist. Among the many species of trees are the rubber tree, palm, acacia, margosa, satinwood, Ceylon oak, tamarind, ebony, coral tree and banyan. Flowers and shrubs include the orchid and rhododendron. There are about 3,300 species of plants, of which some 288 are threatened with extinction. Arable land comprises 20 per cent and permanent cropland 16 per cent of the total land area.


Nature reserves now cover ten per cent of the island. Wilpattu National Park in the north-west (813 sq km) is best known for leopards; Yala National Park in the south-east (112 sq km) is home to large elephant populations. However, reduction of the natural tropical hardwood forest is endangering several animal species. Some 30 mammal species and 14 bird species are thought to be endangered (2014).