‘We are going to die’: Sri Lanka warns of food shortages

COLOMBO, May 20 (Reuters) – Sri Lanka’s prime minister has warned of a food shortage as the island nation battles a devastating economic crisis and promised the government would buy enough fertilizer for the next planting season to boost productivity.

A decision in April last year by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to ban all chemical fertilizers has drastically reduced yields and although the government has reversed the ban, no substantial imports have yet taken place.

“While there may not be time to get fertilizer for this Yala season (May-August), steps are being taken to ensure adequate stocks for the Maha season (September-March),” Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said in a Twitter post. Thursday.

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“I sincerely urge everyone to accept the seriousness of the…situation.”

Sri Lanka faces severe shortages of foreign exchange, fuel and medicine, and economic activity has slowed at a frantic pace.

“There’s no point in talking about how hard life is,” said APD Sumanavathi, a 60-year-old woman selling fruits and vegetables in Pettah market in Colombo, the commercial capital, on Friday. “I can’t predict how things will be in two months, at this rate we might not even be here.

Nearby, a long queue had formed in front of a shop selling cooking gas cylinders, the prices of which soared.

“Only about 200 bottles were delivered, when there were about 500 people,” said Mohammad Shazly, a part-time driver who said he was queuing on the third day to be able to cook for a family of five. people.

“Without gas, without kerosene, we can’t do anything,” he said. “Last option what? Without food, we will die. It will happen one hundred percent.”

The central bank governor said on Thursday that foreign exchange had been obtained through a World Bank loan and remittances to pay for fuel and cooking gas shipments, but supplies were not yet available. routed.

Inflation could rise further to 40% over the next two months, but it was largely driven by supply pressures and bank and government measures were already dampening inflation on the demand side, added the governor.

Inflation hit 29.8% in April as food prices rose 46.6% year-on-year.

As anger against the government spread, police fired tear gas and water cannons to repel hundreds of student protesters in Colombo on Thursday. The demonstrators demand the ousting of the president as well as the prime minister.

Sri Lanka’s economic crisis was born out of the confluence of the COVID-19 pandemic that hit the tourism-dependent economy, rising oil prices and populist tax cuts by the government of President Rajapaksa and his brother, Mahinda, who resigned as prime minister last week.

Wickremesinghe, appointed prime minister in his place, is accused of being a lackey of the brothers.

Other factors include heavily subsidized domestic fuel prices and the decision to ban the import of chemical fertilizers, which have devastated the agricultural sector.

Economic powers from the Group of Seven support efforts to relieve Sri Lanka’s debt, G7 finance chiefs said Thursday in a draft statement from a meeting in Germany after the country defaulted on its sovereign debt. . Read more

P. Nandalal Weerasinghe, the head of the central bank, said the debt restructuring plans were almost finalized and he would soon submit a proposal to the cabinet.

“We are in preventive default,” he said. “Our position is very clear, until there is debt restructuring, we cannot repay.”

A spokesman for the International Monetary Fund said the fund was monitoring developments very closely and that a virtual mission to Sri Lanka was due to conclude technical talks on a possible lending program to the country on May 24. read more

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Additional reporting by Uditha Jayasinghe and Sudarshan Varadhan; Written by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Edited by

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