Sri Lanka’s poverty quagmire

Monday, 8 May 2023 00:54 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The national poverty rate in Sri Lanka is projected to have doubled to 25% with urban poverty estimated to have tripled to 15% in 2022 due to the economic contraction in the country, according to the Sri Lanka Development Update (SLDU) released by the World Bank (WB) recently. “The crisis reversed years of gains in poverty reduction and human capital development,” the Report said, adding that poverty is projected to remain above 25% for the next few years due to the multiple risks to households’ livelihoods. 

These are statistics that tell the story of the real victims of the economic crisis that has pushed many Lankans to the brink but their stories are overshadowed by the complacency that has set in in the past few months due to the disappearance of queues and shortages that were the norm during this time last year. According to the United Nations, poverty does not include only lack of income and productive resources to ensure sustainable livelihoods, but its manifestations include hunger, malnutrition, limited access to education and healthcare, discrimination and lack of access to other basic services.

More than three million families categorised as low income are on welfare in Sri Lanka. In reality the number impacted by the economic crisis is larger with the middle class too reeling under the impact of the rising costs of goods and services. Malnutrition levels are on the increase in the country with many families unable to afford a balanced meal for their children while senior citizens, the growing demographic group in Sri Lanka, among the most neglected in this crisis.

In between the children and the seniors are the youth, many of whom, in their despair, are looking to get away to greener pastures so they can build a better future for themselves overseas. This is leading to the exodus of the most valuable human capital that the country has.

Statistics never truly tell the story of each and every family that has had to take many steps backwards in the past year or so because their incomes cannot be stretched any longer to provide for their basic needs. In millions of homes, having a pot of rice cooking over the hearth large enough to provide three meals a day has become a challenge. Getting basic medicines from a Government hospital is equally challenging while school dropouts are increasing as children in low-income groups can’t afford to send their children to school any longer.

The Government on its part has initiated several programs to assist the needy but there is a long way to go to get the vital State sectors back to where they were a few years ago.

It has been said umpteenth times that this is a situation that could have been avoided had then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa set aside his bad advisers and arrogance and paid heed to those who warned of the critical situation the country’s economy was headed for, particularly post-COVID. 

But righteous and wise rulers have always been in short supply in Sri Lanka and millions of voters who fall hook, line and sinker to false assertions of national pride, Sinhala-Buddhist supremacy et al have contributed to electing leaders who are best at putting self-interests over public interest. The end result is what we see today of a country, once held up as an example for putting its citizens’ welfare above others, a strong public health and education system, hung up to dry on the global stage.

Tragically, those who brought the country to its knees show little repentance and continue to mock the people with their callous attitude while the people struggle to make ends meet.