Sri Lanka, an island adrift

By Sophie Landren

Posted on Apr 08, 2022 at 5:30 PM, Updated at 5:14 AM

perfect storm. A complete and predictable shipwreck. Sri Lanka, the “pearl of the Indian Ocean” with great origins, is a bankrupt country that is forced to beg for survival. On the verge of an uprising.

After months of deprivation, Sri Lankans were outraged on 15 March. The crowd attempted to storm the presidential residence, and demanded the departure of the head of state, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and his brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, the chief minister. Every day, protesters defy the authorities to cries “Gotta go away! » But the executive couple cling to power. Declare a state of emergency at 1Verse April, caused the resignation of the entire government two days later, and called on the opposition to form a government of national unity. The maneuver failed. The Rajapaksa brothers lost a majority in Parliament after a series of defections. The ship is filled with water from all sides.

The country of 21.9 million people is in the grip of an unprecedented economic and financial crisis since its independence in 1948. It is a heavily indebted city and its foreign exchange reserves are at an all time low. At the end of January, it had only $2.07 billion left, barely enough to fund monthly imports. The state no longer even has enough dollars to buy the fuel needed to run thermal power plants.

Lack of gas, medicine and rice

The island is highly dependent on the outside, and lacks everything: gasoline, gas, medicine, and basic products like rice, powdered milk or lentils. Stores had to set up a rationing system to prevent residents from stocking food. Schools postponed the semester exams due to lack of paper. Hospitals, anesthesia running out, elective surgeries pending. The list of deprivation goes on every day.

Sri Lankans can’t take it anymore. Since the beginning of February, their daily lives have been punctuated by blackouts, shortages and sudden price increases. On March 30, the National Electric Power Company cut off the electricity for ten hours, a record for the next day with a 13-hour shutdown. Automated teller machines (ATMs) are no longer working for a large part of the day due to a power outage.

A street restaurant experiences regular power outages, in Suisapura, Sri Lanka, on March 2, 2022.
In the streets of Soysapura, south of Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, on March 2, 2022.
Udayantha in the kitchen of her candlelit restaurant on March 2, 2022, in Soysapura, Sri Lanka.

At nightfall, on the outskirts of Colombo, there are only car headlights and tuk-tuks to light up the streets that look like throats have been cut. Udayantha and his wife Shryana settled on the side of a road in Suisapura in the southern suburbs of the capital, unwilling to reveal their surname for fear of police reprisals, they used to serve fast food. Customers deserted and the kitchen was an oven. Without electricity and without lights or fans, Udayantha has to simmer over a candlelight: I have worked here for twenty years and this is the first time I have encountered such difficulties. » A few meters away, Angelina, who also has a small table in the street, was no better. It is impossible to keep fish, the basis of his dishes, cold. She has two children to feed: “I don’t have many clients anymore. It’s really ugly to do that to the poor. The rich aren’t affected.”

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