Source - Data from Department of Census and Statistics
Notes: In the following cases the Capital is not the largest town in its Province: *The largest town in the Eastern Province is Kalmunai (pop. 99,893), followed by Batticaloa (pop. 80,227); ** the largest town in the North Western Province is Puttalam (pop. 45, 511).
Sri Lanka is currently at an urban paradox. According to the last census (2012), the small island was populated by 20.359 million people, including 3.714 million urban residents (or 18.1 per cent of the population), living in 64 municipal areas (Table 1). This small urban population meant that the country ranked as the 11th least urbanised country on earth in the 2018 United Nations World Urbanisation Prospects (UNDESA, 2018). There is considerable evidence, however, that official urban population data masks the true scale of the country’s urbanisation. According to the agglomeration index, an alternative measure of urbanisation that uses multiple indicators, Sri Lanka’s urban population is between 35 and 45 per cent of total (Uchida & Nelson, 2010), while recent Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) policy documents estimate a 50 per cent urban population (GoSL, 2017a). There is also evidence of significant urban growth from night-time light analysis (Ellis & Roberts, 2015).
Sri Lanka’s urban paradox is most readily apparent in the representation of its capital, Colombo: the primate city and economic centre of country. Colombo’s official population is 586,000. However, the boundaries of the of the ‘Western Megapolis’, the conurbation associated with the city, registered a population of around 5.8 million in 2012 – ten times that of the official population, and larger than the country’s total official urban population (GoSL, 2016). This report provides evidence that Colombo is associated with a large urban conurbation, which has experienced rapid spatial growth over the past decade (Fig x). It also shows large conurbations and rapid urban growth across the country.