Colombo (Agenzia Fides) - There is a desperate need for international intervention and solidarity initiatives to help the paralyzed nation: this is the appeal launched by the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA), an ecumenical body that sent an ecumenical pastoral delegation to Sri Lanka in early August.
The CCA expresses its deep concern over the severe economic crisis that has caused unprecedented political turmoil and social upheaval in the nation. The country, says a note from the CCA sent to Fides, has become "a social volcano" due to the economic collapse and the worsening of the situation in the country, mainly due to high inflation, the increase in the prices of raw materials, the increase in hunger and malnutrition, the shortage of fuel and medicine, the crisis of public order, the increase in violence and human rights violations.
The CCA team, led by the organization's Secretary General, Mathews George Chunakara, met with leaders of various Christian denominations in Sri Lanka, as well as members of parliament, leaders of opposition political parties, leaders of civil society, trade unionists, former ministers, worker representatives, interreligious groups and leaders of minority religious communities, as well as representatives of the 'Aragalaya' ('struggle') movement, at the forefront of the popular struggle. During the visit, the team participated in various meetings in which they highlighted the seriousness of the ongoing crisis and the "consequent deprivation of basic services and dignity of the Sri Lankan people". The delegation stated that "Sri Lanka is currently facing its worst economic and political crisis since 1948, with profound and noticeable effects on the daily lives of its citizens and with a serious impact on respect for human rights".
The Secretary General of the CCA said: "The visit of the pastoral group is an expression of the solidarity of the Asian Churches with the people, and with the Churches of Sri Lanka. The team's message will be disseminated on various international ecumenical platforms, especially during the General Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) to be held in Karlsruhe, Germany, at the end of August".
"Sri Lanka, once considered a nation with high levels of education and standard of living, has now become a nation where masses of poor people struggle to live with dignity and overcome economic crisis and political instability".
Hence the urgent appeal: "Sri Lanka's economic collapse requires the immediate global attention of the international community and the full solidarity of the Churches, to avoid another human tragedy", said Chunakara.
There is anger and anguish among the population, fueling the "aragalaya", the Sinhalese word for "struggle". The term "aragalaya" is used to describe the daily gathering of people who gather at the "Galle Face" in the capital Colombo, and came into use with the call for the government accused of being corrupt to resign.
The popular movement, and the daily demonstrations, marked 100 days on July 17. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned (on May 9) and then forced his brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa to leave the country on July 15. The president was kicked out of his office by protesters, who then occupied the presidential residence. Parliament has elected a new President.
The country's inflation reached an all-time high of almost 55%, while food price inflation rose to 81%. The economic crisis and the crisis linked to the external debt - for which the nation is insolvent - have been aggravated by ill-considered agricultural policies that have included the prohibition of the use of fertilizers. The country defaulted on its $51 billion foreign debt in May 2022 and, due to a shortage of foreign exchange, is struggling to pay for essential imports such as fuel, food and medicine. Skyrocketing food price inflation has pushed people into poverty and malnutrition.
The United Nations estimates that about 5.7 million people, half of them children, need humanitarian aid. UNICEF indicates that almost one in two children in Sri Lanka needs some kind of assistance with food, medical care, clean water, education and health services, including mental health. (SD/PA) (Agenzia Fides, 13/8/2022)