In the context of the deepening global economic crisis, Sri Lanka’s foreign exchange (forex) situation is not improving. The slight increase in exports has been undermined by increased imports, specially aggravated by the need to import vaccines to meet the Covid-19 crisis. Also the decision to restrict import of luxuries and non-essentials is not being enforced effectively. The result is that with more foreign borrowing our foreign debt is increasing.
Annual repayment of debt has reached US$ 4.5 billion, with interest repayment alone amounting to US$ 1.0 billion. Neither the Government nor the people appear to realize the gravity of the forex situation and do not act accordingly. Our import policies need to be tightened. The Government has failed to explain to the people the magnitude of the crisis and the need to tighten the belt at all levels, setting a proper example from the top to conserve our forex. The result is the forex crisis.
But internally too the economic crisis is deepening accompanied by social, political and health crises. The hunger crisis is severe with many people having only one meal a day. The loss of income due to closure of factories and offices and loss of self-employment is a major factor. In addition, many have had pay cuts. Another major cause is the rise in the cost of goods, especially essentials like food. This has led to inability to buy essentials and increasing poverty and hunger.
In fact, studies indicate that 60% of people have incomes below the poverty line. The level of malnutrition has gone up to 18%. Thus, correction of the hunger problem should be given first priority by the Government. I appeal to the new Finance Minister to ascertain the families faced with poverty and hunger and supply dry rations to them as the first priority.
The Covid-19 pandemic is liable to expand with the spread of the more virulent Delta variant in the country. There has to be a country-wide people-based campaign to curb this. Covid committees should be established in every village and slum.
These should detect Covid cases early and institute cluster control measures, and ensure that every person strictly observes the four health guidelines (prevent crowding, ensure social distancing, ensure that masks are worn when out of home, and effective washing of hands).
Covid committees have to be set up in schools as necessary. Ensure that all the vulnerable people in society who are liable to get severe diseases or die (elderly over 60 years and those with serious chronic diseases) are vaccinated.
Imported chemical fertilizer should be continued for this period (kanna) of cultivation so that farmers do not suffer. Organic fertilizer should be produced adequately meanwhile and be introduced country-wide thereafter.
Another major problem is the high cost of food and other essentials. The revival and strengthening of cooperatives, producers and consumers is the only way out. This would prevent profiteering by middlemen. The introduction of the new solidarity concept which ensures that ownership of enterprises is given to the employees alone, would result in successful outcomes e.g. the paddy fields in Kerala, India. The strengthening of the state sector in marketing e.g. the Marketing Department, CWE etc would also help.
Measures like these will help to overcome poverty and hunger and eliminate malnutrition. I urge the Government to think and act on these lines to improve the condition of the people and make the country more productive and the people happier.
Disclaimer: Sri Lanka in deep crisis: Demands more focused and stronger action - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view