Sustainable Fishing in Sri LankaFishing is a vital industry in Sri Lanka, both for its population’s livelihoods and its food source. However, issues surrounding economic and environmental crises have placed urgent demands on the sector to modernize.

The sight of traditional stilt fishing in Sri Lanka is eye-catching and unique. Fishers sit delicately poised atop wooden beams high above the Indian Ocean. Patience, balance and finesse are required for fishers to successfully pluck their catch from the waters beneath. The tradition originated from the post-World War II food shortages, but healthier food supplies mean it is now mostly performative. For this island nation of 22 million, fishing is woven into the fabric of its national identity.

Fishing in Sri Lanka

Not only is fishing in Sri Lanka significant because of its contribution to the diet of Sri Lankans, with 50% of its animal protein intake coming from seafood, but it is also an important part of its economy. Fishing provides a lucrative export market, valued at over $290m in 2022. In total fishing supports the livelihoods of around 3.6 million Sri Lankans.

For many years, environmental factors have threatened the livelihoods of fishing communities. A combination of overfishing and ecosystem damage has caused a decline in fish stocks. Furthermore, climate change has meant that destructive extreme weather events are now happening with increased regularity in Sri Lanka. Evidence from 1974 to 2004 shows floods and droughts are occurring more frequently, and projections have warned that the severity and regularity of cyclones could increase.

These already vulnerable fishing villages have faced yet more strain in the previous few years. COVID-19 has dealt a heavy blow to the fishing industry. In 2020, fish harvests declined up to 20% and exports were down as much as 26%, according to the World Bank. This forced Sri Lanka to import $218 million of fish in 2020 just to satisfy national food demands. To make matters worse, a national crisis has followed the economic downturn of COVID-19.

Economic Crisis

A gradually deepening financial crisis, which COVID-19 had exacerbated, exploded in 2022. The result has been economic and political turmoil that has had dire humanitarian consequences. Deteriorating social conditions such as fuel, food and energy shortages and heightening inflation prompted mass anti-government protests in the spring of 2022.

All 26 cabinet members other than the President and Prime Minister resigned on April 3, 2022, and less than 10 days later, Sri Lanka defaulted on its $51 billion sovereign debt payments it owed to international creditors, The Guardian reports. Months of violent protests culminated on July 9, 2022, when protesters stormed President Rajapanka’s residence and set Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s house ablaze. The President fled to the Maldives and resigned on July 13, 2022.

The stark reality of economic collapse in people’s lives is poverty. UNICEF estimated in June 2022 that 5,711,089 people were in need of humanitarian assistance in Sri Lanka. Figures from The World Bank show that between 2019 and 2022, poverty in Sri Lanka rose from 11.3% to 25%.

Sri Lankans are still struggling to access food. In September 2022, with food inflation at 94.9%, 30% of Sri Lankans faced acute food insecurity. Although beginning to ease, food inflation in April 2023 remained high at 30.6%. These numbers create more impetus to create efficient and sustainable fishing in Sri Lanka.

Growth Opportunities

In March 2023, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a $3 billion loan to support Sri Lanka’s economic policies and reforms, targeted at the most vulnerable. This gives renewed hope for economic and social recovery.

Spoilage is an obstacle to greater revenues, especially with yellowfin tuna, one of Sri Lanka’s most popular and lucrative fish. Half of all yellowfin tuna caught is spoiled before it reaches the shore and many catches do not meet export standards, according to the World Bank. Modernizing fishing vessels to improve their refrigeration capacity and redesigning fishing routes to reduce the time boats spend at sea could both reduce instances of spoilage. This could increase revenues without the need to catch any more fish.

Making Changes

Ensuring fish stocks remain healthy is also key to achieving sustainable fishing in Sri Lanka. Protecting vulnerable species, like the yellowfin tuna, could require a commitment to conserving and even regenerating coastal ecosystems. Community involvement in assessing stock statuses to protect against overfishing could also hold significance. Achieving sustainable fishing in Sri Lanka can potentially provide an example of the kind of community-focused investment required to put the nation back on a path of stability and progress.

– Henry Jones

Support for Sri LankaAccording to The World Bank, poverty rates in Sri Lanka have doubled between 2021 and 2022, rising from 13.1% to 25.0%. Within a year, 2.5 million people have fallen into poverty, leading to reduced spending in crucial areas like health care and education. This increase in multidimensional poverty necessitates immediate attention, as inflation stands at approximately 46%. While the country’s economic outlook may be dim, global organizations such as the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations (U.N.), alongside local initiatives like Prithipura Communities, offer avenues for support and assistance through various fundraisers and campaigns.

Prithipura Communities

Established in 1964, Prithipura Communities is an NGO in Sri Lanka originally focused on aiding disabled children. Over the years, its scope has expanded to support children and families affected by the country’s social, political and economic challenges. Presently, Prithipura is actively involved in the “Cost of Living Crisis Appeal” project, accepting donations to provide food, education and health care services to those in need. The organization also offers opportunities for volunteering, providing assistance with visas for those willing to contribute on-site. Additionally, corporations such as The Emirates Airline and Maze have formed partnerships with Prithipura Communities, contributing to efforts.

UNDP Sri Lanka

The development program of the U.N. (UNDP) Sri Lanka has launched a crowdfunding platform called “Rebuild Sri Lanka” with the aim of reconstructing the country’s infrastructure. Through this initiative, individuals can donate and support the health care and food sectors. Furthermore, the UNDP provides farmers with seeds and farming equipment to enhance the agricultural supply chain. The campaign has garnered support from various corporate institutions such as Hema Holdings PLC, Dilmah Ceylon Tea Company, Brandix Apparel Limited, Citi Foundation and Amana Bank. UNDP Sri Lanka also offers career opportunities and regular updates for those interested in contributing to the cause. 

UNICEF Sri Lanka

With nearly half of Sri Lanka’s children requiring humanitarian assistance, UNICEF plays a vital role in child care and positive impact. Through its Sri Lanka branch, it provides opportunities for individuals worldwide to support the country. Donations made through the organization’s website directly contribute to helping children in Sri Lanka thrive and reach their full potential. Additionally, people can sign petitions, volunteer and spread awareness through social media. UNICEF’s current mission aims to raise $25 million to assist 1.7 million children in the country.

Looking Ahead

Sri Lanka’s multidimensional poverty crisis demands urgent attention and international support. Organizations like UNICEF, the U.N. and Prithipura Communities are exemplary leaders in driving positive change. Other avenues for support include Give2Asia, WFP and Red Cross Sri Lanka, which offer accessible projects and initiatives online. By offering guidance and opportunities to help Sri Lanka, these organizations foster unity, compassion and progress on a global scale.

– Sebastián Garcés
Photo: Flickr

Health Care in Sri LankaOnce a role model for health and development, Sri Lanka faces an escalating health crisis. The economic crisis in Sri Lanka has forced the health sector to decline, causing millions of people who rely on the free health care system to face loss of access to quality health care.

Sri Lanka imports 85% of its medical supplies. With the foreign currency reserves running low, essentials are becoming hard to obtain.

As the health care system is “nearing collapse,” patients are at risk due to shortages in equipment, medication and power. The United Nations News gave readers a first-hand experience from Ruchika, a pregnant Sri Lankan who has to scavenge for essentials. In her story, she explains what it is like to try to obtain fuel for a trip to the hospital and the possibility of her having to search for supplies to have a safe birth.

Exacerbating Health Crisis in Sri Lanka

The health crisis in Sri Lanka is draining doctors, leaving them to prepare for the worst. Without international help, they fear a health catastrophe is approaching soon.

The largest doctor’s union on the island, the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA), calls on international outlets to donate supplies and places the blame for the health crisis in Sri Lanka on poor economic and financial management. The GMOA published a list of items the country’s health sector desperately needed, such as antibiotics, antidepressants, paracetamol and blood pressure medicine.

As supply numbers drop, medical staff in Sri Lanka are involuntarily suspending non-essential procedures. Low supplies force medical staff to reuse and ration equipment, which can raise sanitary concerns, placing many at risk.

Response to the Crisis

This health crisis in Sri Lanka has forced tens of thousands to protest as food and fuel prices skyrocket. Doctors, nurses and medical students are joining in these demonstrations as they are also frustrated with the government stating that they can’t speak openly to the media about the situation.

To respond to the escalating health crisis in Sri Lanka, the World Health Organization (WHO) is working to help the health care system. The WHO supports the delivery of essentials to “sustain the availability of critical lifesaving medical care for all.” This support is accomplished through financial assistance and donations of medications and supplies worth $7.1 million in 2022. The organization also provided an additional $1.5 million with assistance from the U.S. Department of State. The funding helps strengthen the Sri Lankan health care system.

Sri Lanka still faces a pressing demand to import essential medicine and supplies as well as help from partners.

Sri Lanka has a long way to go before it can reobtain its title as a role model for health and development. However, it is possible if international aid continues to help.

Brianna Green
Photo: Flickr

de Soysa's humanitarian Efforts
Charles Henry de Soysa (1836-1890) was an ambitious entrepreneur from Ceylon, known now as Sri Lanka. He was very wealthy and invested in many businesses, including tea plantations, transportation and oil mills. Deeply involved in his country, de Soysa built several profitable buildings in Ceylon and stood as the country’s first banker. However, aside from his business-related capabilities, Sri Lanka has celebrated de Soysa for his humanitarianism. To further illuminate his positive impact on Ceylon, here are seven significant facts about de Soysa’s humanitarian efforts.

7 Facts About Charles Henry de Soysa’s Humanitarian Efforts

  1. Efforts to Reduce Infant/Maternal Mortality. Determined to decrease the infant mortality rate, de Soysa assembled a team of trained midwives to tend to mothers and their infants. In addition, de Soysa established a maternity hospital, the De Soysa Lying-In-Home in Ceylon, and stood as “the first person in Asia” to found a maternity hospital. De Soysa’s childhood home became the hospital’s first building. The De Soysa Lying-In-Home is the “second oldest maternity home in Asia,” and currently, it provides maternity services to more than 14,000 mothers a year.
  2. A Commitment to Addressing Impacts of Ceylon’s Famine. When Ceylon endured famine during the financial crisis of 1868, de Soysa not only donated a large amount of money for famine relief but he also coordinated and delivered carts with rice and other rations to crowds of people throughout the island.
  3. An Anti-Discrimination Advocate. The first large-scale political gathering in Ceylon took place on November 11, 1871, in Moratuwa at the de Soysa manor. This meeting objected to discriminatory plans included in the Village Councils Ordinance 1871 and advocated for minority groups. A petition, urging that authorities issue the ordinance in the native language, distribute it to everyone and record its advantages and disadvantages, was handed over to the governor. De Soysa’s signature stood at the forefront of the document.
  4. Action to Further Education in Sri Lanka. De Soysa founded the Prince and Princess of Wales’ Colleges in 1876 to provide cost-free education to children regardless of caste, status, ethnicity and religion. The Princess of Wales College initially registered more than 350 female students — this was the first notable attempt in Ceylon to provide a non-religious education to girls. The schools still exist today but the state fully governs the facilities.
  5. Efforts to Establish Medical Facilities in Sri Lanka. De Soysa and his family gifted several medical facilities to Sri Lanka — the Lunawa Hospital Moratuwa, the Panadura Hospital, Marawila Hospital, the Hanguranketa dispensary, the Ingiriya Hospital and the Bacteriological Institute (Medical Research Institute).
  6. Donations to Facilities. In 1886, during a trip to Britain, de Soya made significant donations to 20 major hospitals. He also contributed to running and maintaining a nursing home for the Buddhist clergy.
  7. Supporting the Marginalized. When authorities evicted more than 100 families of Walapane due to their inability to pay the grain tax, de Soysa presented them with land for them to relocate and start over. In addition, de Soysa provided support as a significant donor to the Indian and Irish famine funds. Moreover, when thousands of impoverished people in Moratuwa could not pay the full amount for the Poll Tax, to assist them, de Soysa graciously paid the expected total.

Remembering Charles Henry de Soysa

De Soysa made countless charitable donations toward establishing infrastructure and facilities, advancing education and supporting the marginalized. De Soysa passed away at the age of 54 on September 23, 1890, but was honored posthumously as Ceylon’s first Knight Bachelor.

These specifics about Charles Henry de Soysa do not encompass all of his altruistic acts. In fact, de Soysa also made confidential donations that are not documented. These facts about de Soysa’s humanitarian efforts ensure the world continues to remember a historic humanitarian who significantly contributed to uplifting Sri Lanka’s impoverished.

– Megan Roush
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Sri Lanka's Debt Crisis
Sri Lanka’s debt crisis has become the latest point of geopolitical contention. The country experienced extreme economic hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving it unable to pay billions of dollars worth of debt to private and government creditors. Following an unprecedented defaulting of its debts and a political crisis that saw the president resign and the prime minister’s office raided, Sri Lanka stands on the precipice of an economic and humanitarian catastrophe. With the United States, Russia, India and China all weighing in, the world’s monetary eyes have turned toward the struggling island nation.

A Closer Look at Sri Lanka’s Collapse

Sri Lanka’s debt ballooned over the last few years due to domestic crises and an unfavorable economic situation. Relying primarily on exports to feed an ever-growing deficit, the country’s situation took a turn for the worse when pandemic supply shocks and tourism dried up foreign revenue, causing blackouts along with food and energy shortages. Unsurprisingly, political turmoil quickly followed suit, ending with the ousting of President Rajapaksa and the ascension of Wickremesinghe to office. Now, Sri Lanka has nearly no foreign reserves and a 119% debt-to-GDP ratio.

If the macroeconomic situation seems dire, it pales in comparison to the suffering of Sri Lanka’s poorest citizens. Between 2021 and 2022, poverty rates increased by half to 25.6%, pushing 2.7 million more people into the grips of poverty. Additionally, inflation in Sri Lanka hit a record high of 73.7% in October 2022. With the world’s economy expected to shrink over the next year, Sri Lanka’s predicament threatens to worsen as its crisis deepens.

Sri Lanka’s Creditors

Underlying these pressures are private and public groups using Sri Lanka as a pawn on the international stage. China accounted for close to 10% of Sri Lanka’s debt by April 2021 but refuses to negotiate the amount owed, insisting on “a two-year moratorium” instead. India, China’s competition in the region, offered Sri Lanka an emergency $4.4 billion in credit, attempting to woo the island nation away from its traditional source of funding. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) says it will only consider a relief package if Sri Lanka can come to an agreement with its main creditors.

In addition, private banks have played hardball with Sri Lanka, exacerbating the current crisis. These organizations collectively hold half of Sri Lanka’s debt, lending to the island nation at an exorbitantly high-interest rate. Renowned economists, such as Thomas Piketty, note that many of these companies knew Sri Lanka would be unable to repay its debt but chose to offer it loans regardless. His conclusion is that risky lending must bear the consequences.

Debt Assistance

Although some economists like Piketty champion cancellations of Sri Lanka’s debt, a more moderate solution does seem plausible. The IMF showed more openness to an emergency loan as talks with China and India continued. Provided Sri Lanka passes austerity and anti-corruption measures, the IMF said in September 2022 that it would be willing to give $2.9 billion in funding. Vitally, this aid would allow the country to purchase much-needed medical equipment and food. Private creditors also demonstrated a willingness to restructure Sri Lanka’s debt, pending approval from President Wickremesinghe.

Domestically, Sri Lanka’s president stressed the importance of weathering the economic storm. Urging his fellow countrymen forward, President Wickremesinghe stated that as pay raises for civil servants come into effect “the public would become prosperous, with income sources increasing. The interest rate can be reduced. In another three years, present incomes can be increased by 75%.” Indeed, inflation will likely decrease from 45% in 2022 to 23% in 2023 and only 8% in 2024.

Foreign Aid to Help During Sri Lanka’s Debt Crisis

Amid Sri Lanka’s debt crisis, it is important not to lose sight of those most affected by the country’s economic woes: its people. Given the dire condition of food, fuel and supplies, immediate aid provides the most tangible form of assistance. In June 2022, USAID announced almost $6 million worth of humanitarian aid to Sri Lanka on top of assistance worth close to $12 million a month prior. The funding will “provide cash assistance, short-term jobs, and agriculture supplies such as seeds directly to crisis-affected people to meet their basic needs,” the USAID website says.

Meanwhile, the United Nations raised $79 million to relieve food and medicine shortages in Sri Lanka. Through its Humanitarian Needs and Priorities Plan, the U.N. aims to help about 3.4 million Sri Lankans in need of aid.

With increased aid and pressure from the international community to resolve the crisis, a resolution to the crisis appears, if not imminent, at least plausible. Although this provides scarce comfort to the 6.3 million Sri Lankans that food insecurity has affected as of September 2022, it is an important step in the right direction while humanitarian organizations address the needs of struggling people on the ground.

– Samuel Bowles
Photo: Pixabay

Sri Lanka’s Economic Crisis
World Bank data reveals that almost 300,000 Sri Lankans fell under the poverty line in 2020, meaning that 12.7% of the population lived on less than $3.65 a day. The COVID-19 pandemic had a lethal effect on the tourism, manufacturing and construction sectors that locals are financially reliant on.

In an interview with The Borgen Project, Saman Kumara, a guest house owner in the city of Haputale in Sri Lanka, shares that the local population has resorted to selling their personal property to secure money for food and medicine. According to 2022 data from the World Food Programme (WFP), close to 30% of Sri Lanka’s households (more than 6 million people) experience food insecurity. Adding insult to injury, citizens are experiencing power cuts of up to 13 hours and massive shortages of medicine and fuel. These consequences stem from government mismanagement and failure to act on time, resulting in Sri Lanka’s deepest economic crisis yet.

Coping with the Crisis

To alleviate the impacts of Sri Lanka’s economic crisis, in 2020, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) examined Sri Lanka’s social protection response, concentrating on cash transfer initiatives. The Sri Lankan government swiftly established a cash transfer initiative in response to the crisis, “providing millions of monthly payments of LKR5,000 (roughly $14) to households in April and May.” Although the initiative lasted just two months, the government managed to reach most of the country’s citizens with this financial sustenance.

Kumara says that, during the pandemic, “the rich became richer” by buying off the properties that poverty-stricken people were forced to sell due to financial difficulties. “We had to sell our properties, vehicles and land to earn some money because every other income was blocked. [Wealthy] people bought those properties and vehicles at a very low price and that made the situation even worse.”

Government Mismanagement

Official records from Sri Lanka’s Department of External Resources show that by the end of April 2022, the government’s external debt amounted to $34.8 billion. The BBC reported in May 2022 that “Sri Lanka has defaulted on its debt for the first time in its history.” The economic turmoil, rolling blackouts, shortages of essential resources and staggering inflation have caused countrywide protests.

According to protestors, “a series of missteps” that the president and his administration have made have led the once vibrant and thriving economy of Sri Lanka to a fatal crash. In July 2022, after angry protesters stormed his family residence, President Rajapaksa chose to step down from his position and fled the country.

Some of the decisions that triggered Sri Lanka’s economic crisis include the ban on chemical fertilizers, a decision that the government later reversed, but detrimentally affected Sri Lanka’s tea industry and increased food insecurity. Tax cuts in order to garner political support worsened the economic situation while Sri Lanka’s external debt continued to grow. Overall, citizens blame Sri Lanka’s economic collapse on poor governance and severe mismanagement of the economy.

A New Administration

In June 2022, Sri Lankan members of parliament appointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as Sri Lanka’s new president, but according to Kumara, the new government has not helped the situation. “Yes, the government has changed but prices keep increasing. Before the pandemic, 1kg of rice cost 80 rupees (equivalent to $0.22), but now it costs more than 240 rupees (equivalent to $0.66). Petrol, gas and electricity have increased by about 800%,” Kumara says.

“Many of us [have no choice but] to leave the country as we cannot recover from the pandemic. Lots of restaurants are closed, most hotels have remained closed and people skip meals to save food and money.” Kumara also shared that the crisis has led to an increase in criminal activity and mental difficulties. “Every day we see on the news more robberies, suicides, people struggling with income.”

“We were lucky because our business received help from abroad. Previous guests [who] have been staying at our guest house sent us some money to lend a hand. However, it’s been almost impossible to recover from Sri Lanka’s economic crisis,” Kumara notes.

A September 2022 report by the U.N. says, in Sri  Lanka, “Fundamental changes will be required to address the current challenges and to avoid repetition of the human rights violations of the past.”

A Helping Hand

Help from abroad comes as UNICEF and Rotary International announce their new scheme to “deliver critical lifesaving supplies to families impacted by the crisis in Sri Lanka,” the UNICEF website says. The partnership, announced on 22 August 2022, aims to tackle the deepening economic crisis impacting the Sri Lankan community. Among other essentials, the partners will provide clean water, medicines, educational resources and medical equipment.

Projections by the World Bank suggest that poverty will continue to stand above 25% in the years to come. Aid from international organizations helps struggling Sri Lankans meet their basic needs, but for lasting change to occur, the new government needs to step up with reforms and solutions to reverse the damage that the previous administration caused.

– Ralitsa Pashkuleva
Photo: Flickr

Food Insecurity in Sri Lanka
Food insecurity in Sri Lanka has increased amid the country’s economic crisis, with disproportionate impacts on women and children. The World Bank says the poverty rate in Sri Lanka is 25.6% (based on the poverty line of $3.65 per person per day) in 2022, almost doubling from 13.1% in 2021. The World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations are taking action to meet the nutritional needs of these vulnerable groups.

Women and Children

According to WFP, as of August 2022, 30% of Sri Lankans are enduring food insecurity, equating to about 6.3 million people. As such, about 66% of households are reducing their food portions and are consuming “less nutritious food,” the WFP website says.

Among those suffering the most from food insecurity in Sri Lanka are pregnant and breastfeeding mothers as well as those with physical or intellectual disabilities and children younger than the age of 5.

The economic crisis has caused a significant increase in food prices as well as a shortage of fuel. The spike in food prices means pregnant women and new moms are struggling to secure three balanced meals a day. Proper nutrition is crucial not only for their health but for the health of their babies.

In August 2022, a doctor at a hospital in Sri Lanka told BOOM journalism that “pregnant women who have visited the hospital in the last few months are all showing signs of anemia.”

Gayani Dilrukshi, who is 23 years old and seven months pregnant, only eats two meals every day with her 4-year-old daughter because she does not have the budget to afford three meals, according to an interview with BOOM journalism. The meals that Dilrukshi can afford are not nutrient-dense and, as such, she is not in overall good health at a critical point in her pregnancy, according to doctors.

Taking Action to Address Food Insecurity in Sri Lanka

The WFP is taking action to meet the nutritional needs of the most vulnerable groups in Sri Lanka. However, the WFP requires $63 million worth of funding to adequately respond to the crisis in Sri Lanka. As of August 2022, the WFP’s response plan includes providing “3.4 million people with food assistance.”

In addition to this, WFP is looking to strengthen social safety-net programs that already exist. For instance, through the existing national school feeding program, the WFP aims to help 1 million Sri Lankan children. Through an existing state initiative that provides “fortified food to pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and young children,” the WFP hopes to impact an additional 1 million individuals.

In November 2022, the United Nations amended its Humanitarian Needs and Priorities (HNP) Plan to further help vulnerable citizens throughout Sri Lanka. The HNP raised $79 million in funds from different organizations and countries such as the United States and Australia. Organizations such as Brandix Apparels and the Citi Foundation also contributed funds for Sri Lanka. The United Nations has revised the HNP plan, which will last through 2022, calling for an additional $70 million.

The revised HNP plan would give food aid to 2.4 million vulnerable Sri Lankans, plus assistance, such as fertilizer supplies, to at least 1.5 million farmers in Sri Lanka. Pregnant women and schoolchildren would be included in nutrition support efforts. This plan will also supply more than 900,000 people with clean and safe drinking water. As many as 867,000 people will receive aid in the form of integral medicine and health care.

Fortunately, organizations are addressing food insecurity in Sri Lanka, especially among vulnerable groups. Through aid, Sri Lanka can recover from its current economic crisis.

– Yonina Anglin
Photo: Flickr

Being Poor in Sri LankaExtreme poverty rates in Sri Lanka are low compared to other countries in the region. According to the Asian Development Bank, only 0.2% of the employed population lived on less than $1.90 per day in 2021. However, the quality of life in Sri Lanka remains low as more than 13% of the Sri Lankan population lived on less than $3.65 per day in 2016. Estimates indicate that, by 2019, this rate may have reduced to about 11%, meaning more people were escaping poverty and capable of fulfilling their most basic needs. However, the struggles from the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2022 economic crisis have caused a regression in poverty rates in Sri Lanka, thus, being poor in Sri Lanka is a new reality for many.

Sri Lanka’s Impoverished

According to the National Multidimensional Poverty Index (NMPI), of every six people in Sri Lanka, one suffers from multidimensional poverty. However, being poor in Sri Lanka is more probable in certain areas and among specific age groups.

In Sri Lanka, there is a significant difference in poverty between rural and urban districts. More than 80% of the multidimensionally deprived are living in rural areas, which makes this group a priority.

Plantation communities in Sri Lanka face significant impacts of poverty. Although these communities make up 4.5% of the national population, according to data from 2019, plantation communities make up 14.4% of Sri Lanka’s poor. Plantation communities are vulnerable to poverty due to a history of oppression and marginalization. Many plantation workers face modern slavery conditions and do not earn a living wage. Children living in plantation communities are exposed to harsh working conditions and lack opportunities to prosper in life as access to quality education is lacking, among other issues.

Children, in general, are at risk of being poor in Sri Lanka. UNICEF reports that 42.2% of Sri Lankan children between 0 and 4 years old suffer from multidimensional poverty, according to the Child Multidimensional Poverty Index (CMPI). These deprivations include a lack of nutrition, inaccessible education and inadequate access to clean water sources. About 33% of poor children suffer from a form of malnutrition. However, there are no real differences between boys and girls in terms of exposure to poverty, which means there is no gender disparity in relation to poverty among children.

The Effects of the 2022 Crisis

Despite the country’s efforts to move away from poverty and the numerous improvements during the last decade, Sri Lanka’s current economic crisis has shaken the country. The World Bank estimates that poverty rates could double in 2022, rising from 13.1% to 25.6%. This would mark the highest poverty numbers in Sri Lanka since 2009.

The BBC explains that the COVID-19 pandemic marked the onset of Sri Lanka’s economic crisis as the tourism sector faced severe impacts. Then-President Rajapaksa’s “economic mismanagement” and poor financial decisions also played a significant role — Sri Lanka ran out of foreign currency and fell into immense financial debt.

Sri Lanka’s inflation rate stood at more than 50% by July 2022 and citizens faced “daily power cuts and shortages of basics such as fuel, food and medicines,” the BBC says. The Russia-Ukraine war has further exacerbated inflation across the world.

The situation affects poor households more severely as purchasing power becomes even lower. The economic recession also caused about 500,000 job losses in industry and service sectors between 2021 and 2022, the World Bank says.

Other Impacts

Russia is the third-largest exporter of Sri Lankan tea, but these exports drastically dropped since the start of the Russia-Ukraine war. Furthermore, Sri Lanka banned imports of fertilizer in April 2021, which gravely affected agriculture as farmers had no alternatives. In fact, the 2021/2022 planting season noted a 50% drop in production. This has affected food security in the country and the livelihoods of about 2 million farmers and 40% of the population deriving income from agriculture.

According to ReliefWeb in November 2022, 6.3 million Sri Lankans are enduring moderate or severe food insecurity. Furthermore, severe acute food insecurity affects 66,000 Sri Lankans, 18,000 of whom come from plantation/estate communities.

Deteriorating conditions have led to nationwide protests that concluded with the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Therefore, toward the end of July 2022, Sri Lanka imposed a state of emergency due to political and economic stability collapsing at the same time.

Taking Action

In September 2022, the IMF offered Sri Lanka an initial bailout loan of almost $3 billion. The funding looks to “stabilize the economy, protect the livelihoods of the Sri Lankan people and prepare the ground for economic recovery and promoting sustainable and inclusive growth.” Furthermore, an IMF loan may encourage other lenders to reestablish trust with Sri Lanka, which currently has $50 billion worth of debt as of July 2022.

Due to the unprecedented inflation rates, the government reacted by increasing direct financial assistance. Acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe implemented the Welfare Benefit Fast Track Programme ‘Leave No One Behind’ to assist low-income households in Sri Lanka. By October 12, 2022, the program had received 2.3 million applications for assistance. The program is projected to benefit about 3.9 million Sri Lankans.

Because Sri Lanka’s social safety nets have limitations due to the country’s lack of finance, foreign aid to Sri Lanka is crucial amid the country’s economic crisis.

– Carla Tomas
Photo: Unsplash

Elderly Poverty in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is “one of the fasted aging countries in the world” — the expansion of the elderly population in Sri Lanka is almost twice as much as other countries in the region of South Asia, according to a 2017 publication by the Insitute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka. As such, elderly poverty in Sri Lanka is a cause of concern.

The Elderly in Sri Lanka and Poverty

According to the Insitute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka in 2017, one in every seven Sri Lankans fall into the elderly age group of 60 and older. By 2030, predictions show that this ratio will increase to one in every five, and by 2050, one in every three persons will be elderly. Sri Lanka’s elderly make up 12.4% of the country’s population. A 2018 article indicates that “children under the age of 15 years and those who are 65 years and above account for more than 45[%] of the poor in Sri Lanka.” Out of the country’s general populace, one in every six people experiences multidimensional indigence.

But, a 2019 publication by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) indicates that there is no distinct difference between poverty rates of the general population and poverty rates among Sri Lanka’s elderly due to societal norms. “Since many elderly people live in multigenerational households, only a few of them are exposed to poverty arising from lack of income and other means of support, and the poverty rate among the elderly inevitably tends to correlate closely with poverty rates in the overall population,” the ADB says.

The labor force participation rate is highest among the less educated in the 60+ age group. Both female and male elderly people with low educational attainment tend to work during their senior years compared to people with higher levels of education. A reason for this could be that educated people typically secure jobs in the formal sector and receive income security in their senior years through pensions or provident funds.

A survey of 200 urban and rural households indicated that only 22.5% of the elderly had a secondary education and about 28.5% of them finished primary school.

Government Assistance

According to a 2012 document by the Human Development Unit, Sri Lanka’s dependency ratio stands at about 56% and is expected to increase to 58.3% by 2031. In 2012, the pension system covered 10 to 15% of the elderly.  The pension system “is highly adequate (corresponding to 89[%] of the consumption of the beneficiaries from the poorest decile), but it transfers only 11[%] of its funds to the poorest 10[%] of the population.” About 70% of beneficiaries of this pension system are not impoverished and more than 75% of beneficiaries reside in rural areas but close to zero beneficiaries come from Sri Lanka’s impoverished estates.

Elderly People’s Living Situation in Sri Lanka

Historically, elders lived with their children, but in the last few years, some started living in senior homes. Roughly 250 senior care homes are located throughout Sri Lanka and service nearly 7,000 elders. About 99% of assisted living care occurs at home and the other 1% is in private spaces. A room in a senior care home will cost anywhere from LKR 50,000 ($156) to LKR 150,000 ($469) a month. While in these homes, many of the elderly become lonely due to family separation and some experience feelings of abandonment. To combat this, many senior homes provide services that allow the elderly to receive care where they are most comfortable.

Organizations Aiding the Elderly in Sri Lanka

The National Secretariat for Elders (NSE) emerged in 2000 to help support seniors and reduce elderly poverty in Sri Lanka. To date, it has founded two senior homes and currently oversees 345 public nursing homes. Meanwhile, Diriya Piyasa, a group that constructs homes for low-income families, renovates sanitary facilities and builds “adult daycare” centers for those who cannot afford assisted living.

The elderly receive welfare assistance through the Elderly Social Security Fund. About 416,667 Sri Lankans were beneficiaries, receiving upward of Rs 2,000.

Through comprehensive social security nets, elderly poverty in Sri Lanka can reduce.

– Dorothy Quanteh
Photo: Flickr

Food Systems in Sri Lanka
Food systems globally are having to adapt to increasing numbers of challenges; a growing population, supply chain inadequacies and an overwhelming strain on the environment that in itself disrupt harvests and crop growth. Food systems in Sri Lanka are experiencing major shortages in recent years due to government mismanagement and a failed transition to organic agriculture, alongside crippling economic conditions and mounting foreign debt. People’s food security is a growing concern.

The World Food Programme (WFP) reported an estimated 6.3 million people, nearly 30% of the population believed to be experiencing moderate to severe acute food insecurity in September 2022. This follows after successive poor harvests and a limit on imports of food grains as a result of a depreciating currency and rising prices of goods.

Imports account for 22% of the country’s food consumption. Previously self-sustained in the production of rice, meat, fish, eggs and fruit and vegetables, poor harvests have rendered domestic supplies inadequate, forcing Sri Lanka to import $450 million worth of rice, despite the price for the staple crop rising some 50%. Maintaining a nutritious diet has become increasingly difficult for the average household as inflation rises to 57.4% and incomes fall.

How it Happened

One can attribute poor harvests to environmental impacts and government policy. Former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa in April 2021 imposed a national ban on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides in an effort to transition Sri Lanka’s agriculture sector to organic production methods. This was carried out without an integration period, effectively ordering 2 million of the countries’ farmers to go organic overnight.

Whilst the notion of organic farming is appealing through the environmental benefits it offers, the use of synthetic fertilizers attains consistency in yield that is difficult to replicate. Consequently, since the imposition of the ban, Sri Lanka’s rice production has substantially declined.

The foreign exchange felt the economic drawbacks of this policy after tea production took a hit and Sri Lanka’s export revenue decreased, weakening a key industry that employs many across rural areas. The significant decline in agricultural output sent many Sri Lankan farmers into poverty.

Intrinsically altering the nature of production and operations of food systems in Sri Lanka in such a way requires education programs to introduce farmers to alternative methods of crop growth. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka did not take such measures.

Following public outcry, in October 2021 the government went back on its synthetic fertilizer ban. Despite this, the global rise in prices has seen farmers struggling to afford imports of fertilizer, resulting in continued shortages of harvest and food.

The need for sustainability in agriculture is irrefutable; for the attainment of various SDGs as well as the health of the consumer. A gradual approach, alongside a holistic framework, reappraising all the involved sectors and stakeholders will be necessary to ensure vulnerable communities are provided with the required subsistence levels.


To curb the effects of current shortages, NGOs and foreign governments are actively sending remittance packages targeting vulnerable communities and Sri Lankan food systems.

In September 2022, the United States embassy announced a package worth $40 million supplying Sri Lankan farmers with fertilizer needed to resume crop growth. A crucial step in kickstarting the agricultural sector. The embassy also announced a package worth $20 million addressing immediate humanitarian needs across the country, focusing on the groups that the shortages most affected, including pregnant women and children.

The WFP appealed for $63 million in emergency funds earlier in the year to supply those most affected by the crisis, including vulnerable groups, pregnant women and children. It aims to offer food vouchers to help cover expenses and provide emergency nutrition and school meals until the end of the year.

Australia was the first country to meet the WFP’s appeal, from whom Sri Lanka received a donation of rice worth $15 million in September. The Australian government has scheduled further donations of rice and cooking oil to be shipped to Sri Lanka in the coming months.

Many are hungry and much rely on a successful harvest in the coming season. However, with the measures in place, some pressure on the agricultural sector and food systems in Sri Lanka is being relieved, and the immediate needs of the most vulnerable groups are receiving attention.

– Bojan Ivancic
Photo: Flickr