Hunger, anger and helplessness stalk the land

COLOMBO (Daily Mirror) - Our people are suffering and our children are starving. In fact, according to UNICEF, more than 5.7 million people, including 2.3 million children, require humanitarian assistance. The report adds Sri Lanka is among the top ten countries with the highest number of malnourished children, and the numbers are expected to rise further! 

The Household Income and Expenditure Survey of the Department of Census and Statistics reveals the poorest 20 per cent of households in the country generated only Rs.17,572/- while the poorest 40 per cent of the households generated Rs.26,931/-. 

The situation is truly frightening. 

At today’s prices, the cost of breakfast for a single individual costs approximately Rs. 300/-. A family of four -father, mother and two children would therefore need approximately Rs. 36,000/- per month to have breakfast alone for a month. 

The cost of a basic lunch (without beef or fish) is Rs. 350/- per day or (350 x4 x 30) Rs 42,000/- for lunch a month for a family of four and another Rs. 42,000/- for dinner per month. 

In other words, the cost of providing breakfast, lunch and dinner for a family of four is Rs. 120,000/-. 

A family with two children would also need another Rs. 160,000/- (annually) to provide the kid’s basic educational needs -uniforms, school bags, pens, pencils, exercise books, facility fees, transport charges, shoes and socks. 

In the estate sector, tea and rubber workers, though playing a major role in earning valuable foreign exchange for the country, receive an average monthly income of Rs.46,865/- according to the Department of Census and Statistics. 

While the situation among the estate workers (upcountry Tamils) is dire, citizens living in other parts of the country are not doing much better either. 

During and in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, the then Governor of the Central Bank pointed out that over 500,000 casual/temporary workers lost employment due to the lockdowns of that period. The financial crisis leading to a country’s bankruptcy has ensured that a majority of these workers remain semi or unemployed. 

The earnings of a large section of our population is therefore insufficient to provide even three basic meals for a family of four, let alone provide for the educational needs of children. The above-mentioned figures also do not include the cost of house rent, medical needs, electricity and water bills and or recreation. 

The past two years also saw workers’ real incomes falling amid hyperinflation. The result -families lost 40 per cent of the value of their nominal incomes within just a year through May 2022 according to statistics published by the government itself. 

In short, the majority of our people can scarcely ‘keep the wolf from the door’. 

As though the situation was not bad enough, on October 20 the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) announced it would be increasing electricity tariffs by 18 per cent and two days ago Minister Bandula Gunawardena announced the Cabinet had approved an increase in the Value Added Tax (VAT) from 15% to 18% from January 1, 2024. He added the increased VAT would be imposed on certain goods and services that are currently not taxed! 

In the midst of widespread unemployment, inadequate wages and starvation, further price increases can only breed desperation. Promises of a future election seem like red herrings to distract from the main problem -that of widespread hunger, anger and hopelessness. 

The government needs to tackle this immediate problem and provide vulnerable sections with some form of succour in the here and now. 

Again, while the masses are struggling to live, certain extremely wealthy persons, reportedly claim they could swing an election by buying over 20 per cent of the popular vote. In simple language, they believe we the citizens are a bunch of crooks without principles or dignity who can be bought and sold over the counter. 

While we often boast of a 2,500-year-old culture, today private profit, greed and egoism seem to be supplanting traditional values and principles. It’s time to step back and take measure of what our nation values and the type of people we want to be. 

Do we look down on our people, or will we rise with them out of this morass of our cheap politicians making? 

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