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Hunger pangs on Slave Island as food prices soar in Sri Lanka

#Hunger #pangs #Slave #Island #food #prices #soar #Sri #Lanka

His hair is neatly combed but his cheeks are sunken and veins are visible on his lean frame: Like many Sri Lankans, Milton Pereira and his family cannot afford enough food.

During the country’s worst economic crisis, which has led to runaway inflation and protests that toppled the President last week, Sri Lankans are buying less, eating less and working less.

“It’s very hard to live, even a loaf of bread is expensive,” Pereira told AFP outside his humble home on Slave Island, a poor enclave of the capital Colombo.

“If we eat one meal, we skip another.”

With six children in the family, the 74-year-old said the best they could afford in recent weeks was the occasional fish cut into small pieces for everyone.

“Because we don’t have much money, we sometimes give the fish to the children,” he said. The adults, he added, “just eat the sauce.”

Sparked by the coronavirus pandemic, the country’s financial woes have been exacerbated by government mismanagement, critics say.

Peirera’s son, BG Rajitkumar, is an electrical worker who has been out of work for months.

“Food prices are increasing every day,” he said. “This exponential price increase is the most terrifying thing I’ve ever experienced.”

According to official figures, food inflation in Sri Lanka reached 80.1 percent by June.

At a nearby greengrocer, residents pay 1,000 rupees (US$2.80) for a kilo of pumpkin, double what it cost three months ago, and owner Mohamad Faizal said some of his customers were now buying just 100 grams at a time.

“Prices have gone up,” he said. “The main reason is that there is no way to transport these items because there is no fuel.”

– ‘No option’ –

With no foreign exchange reserves for imports and its foreign debt of $51 billion

According to the World Food Program, nearly five million people — 22 percent of the population — are in need of food aid.

Its latest assessment says more than five in six families either skip meals, eat less, or buy worse food.

While groceries are not scarce, it is about affordability.

The city’s main wholesale vegetable market in New Manning was bustling on Sunday as buyers, vendors and porters jostling with sacks of produce.

But traders say business has fallen by more than half since March.

“The prices of everything have more than doubled,” said retailer MM Mufeed. “Some of the unsold vegetables are wasted and many poor people come every day after the market closes to take some.”

His sales are down 70 percent, he added. “Sometimes I sell to poor people for a lot less to avoid food waste and offset something.”

But potatoes, onions and garlic continue to be imported from India, Pakistan and China, Import-Export Managing Director Ashley Jennycloss said.

“The food supply is not a problem, but because there is no fuel, it becomes difficult and everything becomes expensive,” said Jeeva, another trader, who gave only one name.

Some people walk long distances to New Manning Market early in the morning to buy small batches of vegetables for their kitchen at bulk prices.

“I have no choice but to walk 10km to this market because groceries are cheaper here compared to retail stores near me,” said Howzy, 50, who gave a name.

– pumpkin patch –

The protest movement that brought down Rajapaksa has its headquarters outside his former office, where dozens of volunteers work in a patchwork of tents that line the seafront promenade.

Among them former government official Theodore Rajapakse – no relation –teaches people to grow fast-growing vegetables in small plots near their homes.

“My country is in trouble,” he said, adding that he has taught around 3,000 protesters since joining the demonstrations.

“You can grow 100 kilos of pumpkins on a 3ft by 3ft piece of land,” he added.

But prospects for an immediate improvement in the situation of Sri Lankans are limited and the most likely successor to the presidency, former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, has been vilified by protesters as an ally of Rajapaksa.

On Slave Island—an area named after a stopover used by the Portuguese to take slaves from Africa during colonial times—Pereira had little hope.

“Gota is gone but there is no candidate to take us out of this terrible state,” he said.

“Politicians are divided. So it’s getting worse, what else can happen?”

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