Sri Lankans, both rich and poor alike, are fed up.
Hit by a deepening economic crisis, people in the informal settlements of the capital, Colombo, say they are eating half of what they used to as food prices have doubled in less than a year. In middle-class neighbourhoods, meanwhile, owners of cafés, bakeries and salons have had to let go of staff and are facing the prospect of closing shop altogether, with hours-long power cuts and reduced earnings keeping customers away.
“The whole country is destroyed,” said one woman in Colombo’s Nugegoda district. “Even stray dogs live better than us.”
“Everything is expensive,” said another. “We cannot manage.”
Sparked by a foreign exchange crisis, Sri Lanka – an island nation of 22 million people – is grappling with its worst economic downturn in decades.
The foreign currency crunch has left President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government unable to pay for fuel imports and other essentials. This has resulted in fuel shortages that have caused rolling electricity blackouts of up to 13 hours and brought ground transport in parts of the country to a halt.
Queues for diesel, cooking gas and kerosene are a common sight, with people reporting having to wait in line for days on end to get their rations. Police say at least two people have died while waiting in the scorching heat.
Prices of medicines have also skyrocketed, while the value of the Sri Lankan rupee has plummeted by 30 percent against the United States dollar this year, making it the worst-performing currency in the world.
The Rajapaksa government has turned to the International Monetary Fund for a bailout and is also seeking financial assistance from India, which provided a $500m credit line for fuel imports in February and approved a second $1bn credit line to help ease shortages of essentials in March.But that has done little to end the crisis, and protests calling for the president’s resignation have broken out across the country since early March, two years after the COVID-19 pandemic decimated one of Sri Lanka’s key economic sectors: tourism. Protesters chanting “Go home, Gota”, a reference to the president’s nickname, have been taking to streets across cities and towns at different times throughout the day.