‘We are dying’: Sri Lankans say amid food shortage, economic crisis

As the island nation confronts a terrible economic crisis, Sri Lanka’s prime minister has warned of a food scarcity, promising that the government would buy enough fertiliser for the upcoming planting season to enhance output.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s decision to restrict all chemical fertilisers in April last year dramatically reduced output, and while the government has now lifted the embargo, no significant imports have yet occurred.

“While there may not be enough time to get fertiliser for the Yala (May-August) season, preparations are being done to secure enough stockpiles for the Maha (September-March) season,” Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said late Thursday on Twitter.

“I implore everyone to recognize the enormity of the situation.”

Sri Lanka is experiencing severe currency, gasoline, and pharmaceutical shortages, and economic activity has slowed to a crawl.

“It’s pointless to complain about how difficult life is,” said A.P.D. Sumanavathi, a 60-year-old lady selling fruit and vegetables at Colombo’s Pettah market on Friday. “I can’t say what will happen in two months; at this rate, we might not even be here.”

A lengthy line had developed in front of a store selling cooking gas cylinders, whose prices had risen dramatically.

“Even though there were approximately 500 people, only about 200 cylinders were given,” said Mohammad Shazly, a part-time driver who said he stood in line for the third day to be able to prepare supper for his family of five.

“We can’t do anything without gas or kerosene oil,” he remarked. “What’s the last option?” Without nourishment, we will perish. That will absolutely happen.”

On Thursday, the governor of the central bank said that foreign exchange had been acquired through a World Bank loan and remittances to pay for fuel and cooking gas shipments, but that supplies were still being delivered.

The governor noted that inflation might grow to a stunning 40% in the coming months, but that it was mostly driven by supply-side pressures and that bank and government actions were already reigning down demand-side inflation.

In April, inflation reached 29.8%, with food prices up 46.6 percent year on year.

As public discontent with the administration grew, police in Colombo used tear gas and water cannon to disperse hundreds of student protestors on Thursday. Protesters are calling for the president and prime minister to be removed from office.

The COVID-19 outbreak, which is wreaking havoc on the tourism-dependent economy, has been compounded by rising oil costs and populist tax cuts by President Rajapaksa and his brother, Mahinda, who resigned as prime minister last week.

Wickremesinghe, who took his position as Prime Minister, has been accused of being a puppet of the brothers.

Other issues include substantially subsidized local fuel costs and a restriction on chemical fertilizer imports, which destroyed the farm industry.

The G7 finance chiefs said on Thursday in a draft communiqué after a conference in Germany that they support efforts to offer debt relief for Sri Lanka after the government defaulted on its sovereign debt.

The central bank chief, P. Nandalal Weerasinghe, has stated that plans for a debt restructuring are nearly complete, and that he would shortly make a proposal to the government.

He stated, “We are in pre-emptive default.” “Our position is quite clear: we cannot repay unless the loan is restructured.”

The International Monetary Fund, according to a spokeswoman, is carefully watching developments and expects a virtual mission to Sri Lanka to finish technical negotiations on a prospective loan package on May 24.

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