As Sri Lanka’s economic crisis deepens, day laborers struggle | News on humanitarian crises

Colombia, Sri Lanka – Hairy Anna Lechchami, 49, from Ratnapura village, about 100 km (62 miles) from Colombo, Sri Lanka’s main city, is grateful for any job she gets.

If she or her husband find work cleaning, cooking or picking tea leaves, they can put food on the table that day. But with a catastrophic economic crisis in Sri Lanka, work is scarce and if they find something to do, getting to work is another challenge.

Sri Lanka restricted the sale of fuel on Monday, providing it only for essential services until July 10. This desperate decision was made when the island nation ran out of foreign currency to buy fuel.

For Lechchami, that means less work. There are days when she just survives on a cup of plain tea with sugar. On other days, she survives by boiling the jackfruit offered by her neighbour.

“There is no other option for us. We have to work to buy food for the day. We are trying to survive. There is nothing else to do,” she said at Al Jazeera.

Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis in more than 70 years, with its economy shrinking by 1.6% in the first quarter of this year, according to official data.

The country has defaulted on its $51 billion foreign debt and is currently holding bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Inflation hit a record 45.3% last month while the rupee has depreciated more than 50% against the dollar this year. The shortage of foreign currency needed to import fuel, fertilizers and other essentials has had a devastating effect on the country’s economy.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told parliament last week that the country was facing a record recession.

Protesters have been calling for the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa for months over the government’s handling of the crisis. The other two powerful Rajapaksa – Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa – have resigned.

“We are screwed up”

The economic crisis has forced people across the island to queue for days to buy essentials such as fuel and cooking gas.

People wait under a temporary tent in a queue after being given tokens to buy petrol due to a fuel shortage, in Colombo, Sri Lanka [Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters]

Security guards have been deployed at gas stations to control crowds.

In a bid to end the fuel crisis, Energy and Power Minister Kanchana Wijesekara tweeted on Tuesday that the government would allow the import and retail of fuel to companies in fuel-producing countries. oil.

Authorities also introduced a token system this week to prevent people queuing at gas stations. However, this caused more chaos.

Kadireshan Selvachandran, 35, a rickshaw driver working in Colombo, has been queuing to buy fuel for three days. He spent the last two nights in his vehicle, hoping to buy enough fuel for a day. He did not receive the token.

” We are screwed up. Now they say only essential services will receive fuel for the next 13 days. We also do essential services, we feed our children,” he said.

Selvachandran is determined not to leave the queue until he has fuel.

A Sri Lankan security staff member stands guard outside a gas station that has run out of gas in Colombo, Sri Lanka
A security official stands guard outside a gas station that has run out of gas in Colombo [AFP]

Experts say talks with the IMF could lead to drastic and far-reaching structural reforms.

Political analyst Dr Aruna Kulatunga told Al Jazeera that some of these reforms could include removing the duopoly in the energy sector, ending import restrictions, increasing revenues and indirect taxation and the privatization or sale of unproductive public enterprises.

The repeal of the Rice Land Law, which prohibits development and even other agricultural work in abandoned rice paddies, is also on the table, as well as the transfer of non-productive state-owned land to farmers and to former farmworkers, he said.

“It’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, one can assume severe job losses while on the other, deep social reforms like land redistribution and allowing productive use of abandoned rice paddies will increase the bottom line for many marginally affected people,” Kulatunga told Al Jazeera.

For Ratnapura’s Lechchami, however, the wait is long as three meals a day have “become a luxury” for her. Experts warn that one of the long-term effects of the economic crisis could be chronic malnutrition for generations to come.

According to the United Nations World Food Programme, 22% of the Sri Lankan population is “food insecure and in need of assistance”. The country’s Institute of Medical Research (IRM) has launched a survey to examine the malnutrition status of the population.

“Malnutrition in the pre-economic period was high. Now, with the economic crisis, it will definitely increase,” MRI nutritionist Dr. Renuka Jayatissa told Al Jazeera.

Lechchami says the cost of most food has tripled what she paid for last year. The longer the government delays in easing the crisis, the worse it will be for his family.

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