COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka’s prime minister says the island nation’s debt-laden economy has “collapsed” as it runs out of money to pay for food and fuel. Short of cash to pay for imports of such necessities and already defaulting on its debt, it is seeking help from neighboring India and China and from the International Monetary Fund.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who took office in May, was emphasizing the monumental task he faces in turning around an economy he said is heading for “rock bottom.”
Sri Lankans are skipping meals as they endure shortages, lining up for hours to try to buy scarce fuel. It’s a harsh reality for a country whose economy had been growing quickly, with a growing and comfortable middle class, until the latest crisis deepened.
HOW SERIOUS IS THIS CRISIS?
Tropical Sri Lanka normally is not lacking for food but people are going hungry. The U.N. World Food Program says nearly nine of 10 families are skipping meals or otherwise skimping to stretch out their food, while 3 million are receiving emergency humanitarian aid.
Doctors have resorted to social media to try to get critical supplies of equipment and medicine. Growing numbers of Sri Lankans are seeking passports to go overseas in search of work. Government workers have been given an extra day off for three months to allow them time to grow their own food. In short, people are suffering and desperate for things to improve.
WHY IS THE ECONOMY IN SUCH DIRE STRAITS?
Economists say the crisis stems from domestic factors such as years of mismanagement and corruption, but also from other troubles such as a growing $51 billion in debt, the impact of the pandemic and terror attacks on tourism, and other problems.
Much of the public’s ire has focused on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother, former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. The latter resigned after weeks of anti-government protests that eventually turned violent.
Conditions have been deteriorating for the past several years. In 2019, Easter suicide bombings at churches and hotels killed more than 260 people. That devastated tourism, a key source of foreign exchange.
The government needed to boost its revenues as foreign debt for big infrastructure projects soared, but instead Rajapaksa pushed through the largest tax cuts in Sri Lankan history, which recently were reversed. Creditors downgraded Sri Lanka’s ratings, blocking it from…