Colombo, Sri Lanka
Colombo, Sri Lanka - ©Photo by Anuradha Dullewe Wijeyeratne

Pro-Poor Partnership for participatory settlement upgrading in Colombo

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Main actors

Supranational / Intergovernmental Institutions, Local Government, National Government, Community / Citizen Group

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Project area

Neighborhood or district

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Ongoing since 2007/08

This project is designed to support (national) government efforts to institutionalise participatory urban governance approaches and to assist selected municipal councils.

In Sri Lanka, poverty has been an impediment to social, economic and political development. Around 40% of total Sri Lankan population lives below the poverty line.

The Cities Alliance ‘Cities without Slums’ initiative is designed to help city authorities to indicate capabilities to think and plan anew, and to address shelter issues, with active public participation, creatively, as a part of the poverty problem. The initiative is designed to build an affordable synergistic model, owned and managed by the local authority. In doing so, a city will employ the Environment Planning and Management process (EPM), including working groups, city consultation modalities, participatory planning and community involvement. The main focus in the present initiative is on inspiring and assisting Ratnapura Municipal Council (RMC) to strengthen and broaden lessons learnt and to institutionalise learning opportunities. 

Sustainable Development Goals

End poverty in all its forms everywhere
Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Reduce inequality within and among countries
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
Colombo, Sri Lanka

Population composition
3 main ethnic groups: the Sinhalese, the Sri Lankan Moors, and the Tamils

Main functions
economic and administrative center

Main industries / business
chemicals, textiles, jewellery

Political structure
Mayor and City Council

Administrative structure
6 districts

This project is designed to support (national) government efforts to institutionalise participatory urban governance approaches and to assist selected municipal councils, in this case more specifically RMC, in order to consolidate and institutionalise participatory urban management mechanisms with a view to prepare large scale settlement upgrading action plans. The main project focus is to inspire and assist RMC to:

  • identify an affordable number of some ‘eye-sore’ human settlement locations, analyse their problems and strengths, formulate practical shelter upgrading and environment improvement plan towards poverty reduction,
  • strengthen existing participatory processes, formulate suitable action plans for physical and social development in selected locations, and
  • search for large scale funding to implement these measures, preparing documentation necessary in order to submit a bankable project proposal, to attract special donor funds and larger investments from government resources and municipal budget alignment.

Based on this, the following main objectives were formulated:

  • build effort coherence amongst various international support programmes in support of national government efforts to institutionalise participatory urban governance approaches
  • assist municipal councils in Ratnapura, Kotte and Batticaloa to consolidate and institutionalise participatory urban management mechanisms and partnership approaches
  • prepare settlement upgrading action plans to mobilise follow-up investments in sustainable settlements upgrading and poverty reduction
  • support institutionalisation of lessons learnt, help in replicating lessons and practice learnt.

Objectives were accomplished using the following activities:

  • three local municipal councils were to institutionalise participatory mechanisms;
  • support provided to three municipalities to formulate appropriately designed and widely- partnered, pro-poor, settlement upgrading strategy; identifying priority settlement for immediate action planning support; supporting municipal/community partnership in implementing settlement upgrading action plans;
  • documenting good practice and knowledge products to support up-scaling experience and integrating these into national policy.

In preparing and implementing the project, several information collection modes were used. They included a community survey in the municipality, direct interviews, interest group discussions, municipal records and dialogue, field visits, survey observations and literature review. The initial task of collecting data and relevant information was undertaken by a working group appointed from among RMC officials, with Management Resources for Good Governance (MaRGG) direction and close supervision. The necessary questionnaires were formulated and instructions given with regard to data collection.

Consequently, the following overall implementation actions were taken:

  • Strengthening in-country capacity by restructuring policy, regulatory, operating frameworks and legal / technical constraints to upgrading at scale.
  • Encouraging local commitment and resolve, including political understanding and buy-in.
  • Strengthening partner capacity to focus attention on the task, emphasising resources, knowledge and tools to help local government, communities and civil society to do the job well and at scale.
  • Supporting preparatory comprehensive city development strategies to address urban poverty and upgrading.
  • Supporting knowledge and learning comprising and sharing varied approaches and local practice used to get the job done in better ways and with full involvement from communities affected; organising practice networks; fielding specialists to help move to scale.

With respect to the slum-upgrading aspect of the ‘cities without slums’ initiative, several more specific actions were performed and the project implemented through a series of participatory activities:

  • RMC arranged for an independent City Shelter Profile to be compiled, critically reviewing shelter conditions for urban poor, proposing a shelter improvement and poverty reduction strategy, for RMC consideration and adoption.
  • Findings and proposed strategy were presented to stakeholders and development partners in the municipality in a city consultation meeting which reviewed, ratified and recommended the final strategy for adoption by RMC through a council motion. It also nominated and recommended a working group (Project Steering Committee PSC) be appointed, under the chairmanship of the Mayor, with municipal commissioner as convener. The group met monthly or more regularly to review implementation progress. Based on the data provided in the profile, RMC selected low income settlements to implement the proposed strategy.   
  • PSC enlisted assistance from associated municipal staff to educate selected families on initiative aims and objectives and helped in setting up a Local Area Development Committee (LADC), comprising, as members, municipal and divisional authority field functionaries, other major development agencies working in the area, private sector representatives, committed CBOs and religious dignitaries in the locality. LADCs met fortnightly to review implementation progress and submitted a monthly progress report to PSC. Through LADC, CBO capacity to serve the local community, particularly in the context of this project, was strengthened. Officials and community leaders were trained in social mobilisation, participatory planning, community development, shelter upgrading and cost recovery management.
  • With CBO assistance and PSC guidance, each LADC formulated a Community Action Plan CAP to upgrade shelter, living and environmental conditions and economic situations. PSC synthesised all CAPs into a municipal level action plan which was submitted to Sri Lanka Ministry of Urban Development Urban Governance Support Facility (UGSF), in order to seek and obtain necessary funds from the approved Cities Alliance budget and from other pledged partners, such as the Asian Development Bank under its current initiative known as Local Government Infrastructure Improvement Programme, an urban finance mechanism providing funds to local government authorities on part-grant, part-loan basis, in order to help improve infrastructure and local capabilities.
  • Once funds were remitted, PSC commenced implementation, regular monitoring and reporting. It reviewed progress reports submitted by LADCs and when necessary made course corrections, in consultation with PSC.  

The 2008 budget allocated Rs. 100 million for participatory urban poor housing to achieve a city without slums’, providing the initial impetus for a separate slum-free urban housing programme which is (currently) under way encompassing 10 cities in various administrative districts in Sri Lanka. In the case of Ratnapura , Kotte and Batticaloa municipalities, the following financial resources were allocated:

Cities Alliance: USD 500,000

co-financing: USD 980,000

Total budget: USD 1,480,000


  • Shelter Improvement Trust established in partnership with the local Regional Development Bank to facilitate low income settlements in obtaining credit facilities at low interest. A first round of loans were granted to 30 urban poor households who commenced regular repayments through savings and credit schemes. Housing improvements were completed, and a second round of loan disbursements is planned, including mechanisms to increase the fund for city-wide applications.
  • Land tenure issues were resolved with RMC granting a long term block lease to the local community.
  • Livelihood support strategy to strengthen sustainability in a community upgrading scheme in the context of final development.
  • Basic urban services upgrading strategy is being finalised through inclusion into a City Development Budget and possible loan support through regional development banks.
  • Capacity building (training programmes) for local community leaders as well as for RMC officials commenced to facilitate replication and city-wide up-scaling. Monitoring and evaluation proposal was adopted by the local community.


  • Batticaloa Municipality and LADC were established, with savings and credit schemes supporting some 546 (Nuwara Eliya) and 1027 (Batticaloa) households.
  • Shelter, livelihood, basic urban services development and community empowerment strategy approved by Batticaloa Municipal Council.
  • Community Action Planning workshops completed in each of three settlements as a basis for developing local upgrading strategies.
  • Community revolving fund established to support shelter (including sanitation) and basic urban service improvements.
  • Draft settlement upgrading proposals drafted for all three local communities.
  • Improved water supply investment proposal for possible regional bank loan financing drafted and under detailed consideration by Batticaloa Municipal Council.
  • Capacity building support provided to Batticaloa Municipal Council officials to roll-out lessons learned and replicate the approach city-wide.


  • Updated existing municipal profile with information on shelter.
  • Priority settlement for upgrading identified through broad-based municipal consultation process.
  • Detailed socio-economic, shelter, tenure data collected for the priority settlement, in order to facilitate preparing the shelter upgrading strategy.
  • LADC established, with shelter, tenure, livelihood and basic urban service upgrading discussions on-going.
  • Municipal shelter revolving fund institutional structure under discussion.

Local governments in the three municipalities learnt the value of breaking out of institutional confines and working with others such as NGOs, local communities and the private sector. The project helped in realising that sustainable partnerships are possible and worth achieving. Building interaction with major stakeholders was not as difficult as previously expected, the results helped to cut down municipal costs considerably. Conventional institutional behaviour and approach patterns changed, making the latter more methodical, and setting up good governance was achieved. The project also improved physical and environmental conditions in low-income settlements. Furthermore, confidence building and empowerment in local authorities and poor communities were strengthened, leading to improved capacity in local government, and in other stakeholders a variety of skills, such as community action planning, poverty profiling and community contracts. Finally, new and proven over-arching practice and mechanisms for pro-poor shelter upgrading, informal sector integration and environment improvement were established.

Potential future barriers may be lack of municipal resources which is a major constraint in environment planning and management in Sri Lanka.As is the case with almost all Sri Lankan local authorities, Ratnapura Municipal Council also depends heavily on meagre central government funds and grants for municipal administrative and urban development work. Since Sri Lankan government local development budget is very limited, development exercises using innovative approaches have remained on the ‘back burner’ due to non-available funds.

One main lesson learnt is the need to consistently upgrade environment and living conditions, in order to create a model ‘shop-window’ with options for urban planners to study and adopt in such a manner to also have a multiplying and cascading effect on urban environment planning in other parts of the country.

Furthermore, a ten-year Horizon Development Framework (‘Ten Year Vision’) issued by Sri Lanka government in November 2006, along with the national 2006 budget, provides a broad policy framework for urban development and human settlements. It was developed through a consultative process between the ministries of Finance and Planning and all stakeholders involved. This framework highlights strategic government policy directions during the following 10 years, aimed at infrastructure and knowledge-based accelerated economic progress in order to provide an enabling environment promoting growth and reducing regional disparities and poverty on a sustainable basis. 

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Want to know more about this project?
Contact our community manager.

Camille Toggenburger
Berlin, Germany

Camille Toggenburger

Individual | Community and Content Manager | urban sustainability exchange

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