Sri Lanka currently stands at an urban paradox with regard to urbanisation. According to the last census (2012), Sri Lanka was populated by 20.3 Mn people, including 3.7 Mn urban residents (18.2 per cent of the population). Due to this small urban population, Sri Lanka is ranked as the 11th least urbanized country in the world in the 2018 UN World Urbanisation Prospects (UNDESA, 2018). However, there is considerable evidence that official urban population data masks the true extent of the country’s urbanization. According to the Agglomeration Index, Sri Lanka’s urban population is between 35 – 45 per cent while GOSL policy documents estimate a 50 per cent urban population (GOSL 2017).
Urban sprawl, land scarcity, climate change and disaster risk vulnerability, environmental pollution, encroachment of ecologically sensitive areas, urban traffic congestion, diminishing green cover, inadequate housing and poor access to services in underserved settlements and plantations are some of the main challenges to sustainable urbanization in Sri Lanka.