Lost Generation

The current crises in Sri Lanka are featured by extreme inflation, unemployment, hunger, and a general economic downward spiral.

By Sara Danial | April 2023

In Sri Lanka, according to a survey by Save the Children, almost half of the population is forced to reduce the amount they feed their children. The country’s economic downturn spirals further into a full-blown hunger crisis nearly a year after the government defaulted on its debt. The government and international community must act now to prevent the country’s children from becoming a lost generation.

The last year saw Sri Lanka going through one of the worst economic and political crises. Although the plunge began in March 2022, with the nation’s leaders held responsible for the accelerated chaos and socio-economic descent, much of the impact was seen nearly in the second half of the year. The elite bureaucrats and political leaders were declared guilty of implementing the misguided economic policies that led to the country’s primary problems. This resulted in plenty of political casualties but it did not allay public disaffection owing to prolonged power outages, rationing queues, and scarcities of basic commodities.
To give a brief snapshot for the unaware, Sri Lankans’ unrest was majorly targeted toward the country’s elected president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Quite similarly to Imran Khan in Pakistan, Rajapaksa was ousted in July amidst violence and carnage, as the key government buildings were occupied by the protesters.

For some time, many contemplated that the country will suffer a state of anarchy. However, unlike Pakistan, this was clearly averted as the power was transferred to a newly elected president with a majority of votes in the Parliament. This speaks volumes about the country’s commitment to democracy and its desire to avoid repeating previous mistakes and violent disorders.

However, as they say, the damage had already been done and it will be long before Sri Lanka can stand tall on its feet again. The current crises are featured by extreme inflation, unemployment, hunger, and a general economic downward spiral.

Until September 2021, Sri Lanka was not experiencing a widespread hunger crisis, although there were concerns about food insecurity in some regions and among certain populations, particularly those affected by conflict, poverty, and natural disasters. According to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), an estimated 1.6 million people in Sri Lanka experienced food insecurity in 2020, with 600,000 of those being children. The COVID-19 pandemic also exacerbated the situation, as many families faced income losses and disruptions to food supply chains. In 2022, GDP contracted by close to 9% and the latest estimates suggest that the economy will contract by 3–4% in 2023.

According to the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, the inflation rate in August 2021 was 6.7%, with food prices rising by 12.4% compared to the previous year. This had a significant impact on vulnerable populations, such as low-income households and those living in poverty.

A currency crisis has also led to shortages of essential commodities like food, fuel, medicine, and cooking gas. With massive protests, Wickremesinghe’s predecessor, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, was forced to flee the country and resign.

But it is important to note that the situation changed rapidly. New developments have arisen as the country is now faced with an extreme hunger crisis so much so that families are forced to cut down on their food expenses to feed their children. This not only brings the current needs under question but also the health of the children in the long run, as they will be responsible for driving the economy in a sustainable way in the near future.

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