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Resources, City Spotlights Trincomalee Town & Gravets

City Spotlight: Trincomalee Town and Gravets, Sri Lanka

Trincomalee Town and Gravets is a divisional secretariat of Trincomalee District, situated in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka.1 The secretariat is governed by an Urban Council that oversees the central city, as well as a “pradeshiya sabha”, a sub-council that oversees the surrounding rural areas. There are approximately 66,000 people living within the jurisdiction of Trincomalee Urban Council, which includes a number of ethnic groups, such as the Tamil and Sinhala. One of the main sources of revenue for the city is tourism, a sector that was deeply impacted by and is still recovering following the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Trincomalee Town and Gravets joined the Strong Cities Network in March 2023 following the attendance of representatives of the city at the inaugural workshop of the Strong Cities’ South Asia Regional Hubi in February 2023.  

What is the local government concerned about?

Trincomalee Town and Gravets has a history of inter-communal tensions and violence, spanning back to the 30-year Sri Lankan Civil War. The impact of the inter-ethnic nature of the Civil War is felt to this day, with Trincomalee Town remaining polarised along ethnic lines. The local government feels it has been unable to respond effectively both to inter-ethnic tensions as well as other community needs and grievances for two primary reasons. The first is a lack of understanding amongst the local government of community demographics within the city. This has made it difficult for the mayor and city councillors to develop an understanding of the level of vulnerability per ethnic group and the true depth and breadth of polarisation between ethnic groups. The second is that language and other accessibility barriers, largely as a result of the lack of insight into the ethnic composition of its residents, have prevented local government services from reaching all city residents.  

In addition to inter-ethnic tensions, there is a general distrust of government, which is fuelled by a historical lack of residents’ participation in local government decision-making. This has contributed to communities feeling their needs and perspectives are not reflected in policy and programming.  

Another challenge in Trincomalee is unemployment, especially among youth, which has resulted in some of them getting involved in anti-social behaviours, including violence. This is both compounded by and fuels other challenges in the city, including around gender-based violence, drug addiction and the proliferation of online and offline mis-/disinformation. 

How is the local government responding?

To address these challenges, Trincomalee Urban Council established a “Community Response Mechanism” (CRM), a unit within the Council that organises community consultation meetings with citizens to solicit their input on the city’s plans to strengthen social cohesion and community resilience. This process both facilitates trust in the local government through enhanced community engagement and allows the Council to set in motion policies and programmes that, by virtue of their co-development with community members, address the actual rather than perceived concerns and needs of residents.  

Moreover, to reduce polarisation and facilitate reconciliation, the Council has started organising language classes so residents can better engage with one another and developed social cohesion programmes for youth. The latter include dialogue sessions between young people of different ethnicities, which are facilitated by a city official. The city is also using these dialogues as an opportunity to gather input from youth on activities they can organise to further enhance engagement between different ethnic groups. Finally, the local government engages religious leaders in social cohesion activities to facilitate dialogue and promote principles of tolerance and harmony.  

To help sustain these efforts, the city has requested and received funding support from Strong Cities Network to partner with the Federation of Sri Lankan Local Government Authorities to develop a local action plan against hate and extremism. This includes the formation of a multi-actor committee that incorporates community leaders, clergy and youth, which will both inform the action plan and help the city better understand and identify the most prominent community needs and concerns in the longer term.  

What’s next?

Trincomalee Town and Gravets will continue to focus on enhancing its engagement with all of its residents, including to ensure they feel able to inform budget allocation and the city’s overall development. Additionally, it seeks to improve educational and employment opportunities for young people across the city. A key piece of this involves enhancing the overall quality of the education received, including by improving existing educational facilities, raising awareness about the importance of primary and secondary education, as well as providing additional training for teachers. One obstacle foreseen by the local government is its reliance on support from the national government to create more jobs and improve the overall economic situation of the city, which has proven increasingly difficult given the ongoing economic crisis the country faces.  

The city will also continue to focus on bringing communities together and to build trust between residents and local institutions, including law enforcement. The local government sees this as particularly crucial to overcome the challenges it faces with petty crime, drug abuse and ongoing inter-ethnic tensions. 

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