Sri Lankan waiter Abdul Razzak hoped to supplement his salary by working as an Uber Eats food delivery man on his friend’s motorcycle. It didn’t work: instead of making deliveries, he ended up queuing for gas.
Plagued by fuel shortages, power cuts and skyrocketing food prices, many Sri Lankans are forced to find second jobs as millions fight to survive the Indian Ocean nation’s worst economic crisis since independence in 1948.
“We have never encountered this kind of economic hardship,” said Razzak, 53.
“Sometimes my wife and I go hungry so we can feed our children two meals. There used to be three.
Historically weak government finances, ill-timed tax cuts, and the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit the vital tourism industrythey have decimated the economy, triggering a currency crisis that has disrupted fuel imports and caused food prices to soar.
“We can no longer survive here,” said Indika Perera, 43, a security guard for a private company in the main city of Colombo, who earns 42,000 rupees ($155) a month.
Food that cost Perera about 10,000 rupees a month before the coronavirus hit now costs half her salary.
She said it was hard for her to feed her three children anything other than plain rice once a day. On good days, she gives them a small fish, her only source of protein, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in her one-bedroom home.
“Sometimes my wife and I starve,” said Perera, who tried a brief stint as a waiter for a few nights but soon gave up after falling asleep at his day job.
Tension over shortages has led to sporadic violence among residents. jostling to buy fuel and other essential goods.
Every day, motorists line up at the fuel pumps at dawn and wait hours for them to open. Some leave jerry cans and gas cylinders to hold their places in snaking queues as they wait their turn in the shade.
Police said a man was stabbed to death on March 21 in an argument with the driver of a three-wheeler while, last week, four elderly died while queuing to buy fuel in the sweltering heat.
The military soldiers stationed at hundreds of gas stations on March 22 after complaints of inefficient storage and distribution, and farmers and fishermen have joined a growing wave of protests.
Without enough dollars to pay for paper and ink, authorities indefinitely postponed quarterly exams for millions of students.
“This is unprecedented. Unlike before, we cannot ask people to donate money because everyone is affected by this crisis in one way or another,” said NM Ameen, president of the Sri Lanka Muslim Council, who has been helping the poor with donations.
‘Life or death’
While Sri Lanka was in economic trouble even before COVID-19, struggling to service foreign debt and slow growth, the series of lockdowns dealt a heavy blow to the informal sector, which makes up almost 60 percent of the workforce. from the country.
Job losses and reduced incomes have increased poverty in the country of 22 million people.
The proportion of people considered poor, based on a daily income of $3.20, was estimated to have risen to 11.7% in 2020, or more than half a million people, from 9.2% the previous year. according to the World Bank.
Central bank data shows that the government identified 5 million families with the “fragile financial status of low-income households” and provided them with an allowance of Rs 5,000 during the COVID-19 lockdowns.
But that helped only briefly, with the latest economic crisis, aggravated by the conflict between Russia and Ukraine which has led to a sharp rise in oil prices, delivering another punch to the stomach and making scenes of despair and panic ever-increasing. more and more common.
Sri Lanka will seek assistance from the World Bank in addition to an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout plan due to be discussed next month. It has already received financial support from China and India in the form of credit lines and currency swaps.
Many Sri Lankans said they are now opting for cheaper food while cutting entertainment bills such as eating out to zero.
Others said they reduced the costs of their children’s education, including private tuition.
Since doctor visits are too expensive, several said they had resorted to self-medication, a practice the World Health Organization (WHO) says can lead to increased morbidity.
“We don’t have a choice,” said S Mallika, 47, a mother of two and breadwinner.
“Unless we feel like it’s a life or death situation, we don’t seek medical advice… We have our own ways of managing,” said Mallika, who earns a daily wage as a maid and has seen her earnings drop when her cash – The tied employers fired her.
His 18-year-old daughter dropped out of school in search of work in Sri Lanka’s garment industry, the second largest earner of foreign exchange.
Many others are trying to make ends meet by donning multiple hats.
“I only sleep an hour on weekdays,” said JMF Ahamed, 52, a retired government official who works at a private company during the day and transports people in his tuk-tuk at night because his Rs23,000 pension he barely supports his family.
But her earnings are barely enough to buy food, she said.
“Our family eats late for lunch, so we just need to eat something light at night.”