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Covid, poverty, and hope for Sri Lanka

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Covid pandemic has had a devastating effect on the economy of all countries, including the very rich. As a result, ninety-five million people have been newly brought below the extreme poverty line of USD 3.20 in 2020, and this may increase to 150 million by the end of 2021 (World Bank). In Sri Lanka 8.9% of people were below the extreme poverty line in 2019, and this is expected to rise to 13% in 2021. This means there will be 890,000 newly poor people that need to be reckoned with in the efforts to alleviate poverty. Moreover, this figure represents a five-year reversal of the poverty alleviation effort. A huge effort would be required to recover from this setback.

In 2019 the global extreme poverty figure was 650 million, and was expected to improve gradually with extensive welfare measures, but today the pattern is quite different. This figure may increase by about 5% at end of 2021. Income inequality will worsen in spite of global economic growth, which is expected to be about 6% in 2021. What this means is many countries are reluctant to adopt welfare measures to help the poor. The pandemic has helped the rich, while the poor were left to fend for themselves. No wonder a US Covid patient said “it’s a poor man’s virus”. The situation may improve for some, like the very quick V recovery in China, but for many, including people in the Western countries, there would be permanent scars such as malnutrition, susceptibility to disease, missed schooling.

Sri Lanka does not come within the first ten countries that have the most number of extreme poor people. Nigeria is number one in this respect and India is second, but the latter is expected to displace the former as the frontrunner due to the massive Covid wave that engulfed it recently. Among these ten are some noteworthy Asian countries such as Bangladesh and Philippines too. However, none of these Asian countries are within the ten countries that are expected to have the deepest long lasting effects of Covid. They are expected to recover to some degree. It is the African countries that are worst affected in this respect.

The Covid pandemic has killed 2.9 million people in the world to date, and the numbers would rise to more than 3.5 million by the time sufficient numbers are vaccinated and the virus eradicated. The deaths had been mainly in India, the US and Brazil. Death rate had been minimal in the country where it started and the country with the largest population, which by any standard is the greatest achievement in recent times. The quick V recovery China achieved in the economic sector is remarkable. China will contribute 1/5th of the global GDP recovery which may happen by 2026. During these five years Chinese GDP would grow by 6%. It would be the number one economy in the world, followed by the US, India, Japan and Germany in that order.

Thus, it is a good time to have China by one’s side! Sri Lanka is under an avalanche of natural as well as man-made disasters. There is the Covid, then there were the floods and storms, and there was the burning ship spewing poison into the ocean. The Western countries are passing resolutions against us in the UN, and the US is trying to resurrect the banned LTTE, in their effort to get us to fall in line and do their bidding like signing the MCC. SOFA and ACSA. Our economy is in doldrums. Can we be choosy regarding whom to turn to in this hour of great peril? Although the duty of the Opposition is to oppose every action of the Government, it cannot at this hour of need refrain from attacking the government on vital issues, unless the government is doing something very wrong. The Colombo Port City project is vital for us at this juncture. It is the only hope we have for survival. The Opposition could help the government on this matter by not making it too much of a political issue. Calling Colombo Port City a colony of China is uncalled for, and not acceptable from a responsible Opposition, which must demonstrate some respect for our benefactors.

What could be done to prevent Sri Lanka sliding further down the slippery slope? It could learn from Pakistan what they are doing to stay afloat. Pakistan has started a massive drive to transfer cash to the poor. They are using modern communication methods to find the needy and give them money to ward off extreme poverty. Pakistan, under advice of the World Bank, distributes cash among the poor people in substantial amounts. This is one way of not only preventing poverty, but also income inequality to some extent, and minimise the effects of Covid. Sri Lanka too helps the poor people during lockdown times. Perhaps it could do more to look after the poor and the vulnerable.

The IMF representative in Sri Lanka has advised the Government on what it should do to minimise the effect of Covid on the people. Apart from looking after the poor, it has recommended the Government to invest more in agriculture and improve food security of the country. Sri Lanka must aim at self-sufficiency in essential food items. This certainly may not be the time to attempt to convert to organic fertiliser. It could result in a substantial food shortage, and our poor economy may not allow large imports of rice and other essential foods, including vegetables that are grown locally.

The IMF has also recommended greater investment in people, particularly their health and nutrition and education. This is rare advice from the IMF, which usually relies on market forces to sort things out. Perhaps the unique situation created by the Covid has made it change its attitude towards the poor countries.

The other thing that the Government must do in earnest, is the vaccination of the people as quickly as possible. Other preventive measures provide temporary protection and lockdowns cannot be a long-term solution. In this regard too, it is China which could come to our rescue. Sino Pharm and SinoVac are both effective against most of the variants, and could prevent serious illness and death in 100% of cases. Government must aim to vaccinate at least 30% of people before it removes travel restrictions. There would be an adverse impact on the economy, but recovery would be quick and long-term effects of Covid would be minimised.

 

N.A. de S. AMARATUNGA



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Opinion

Nelum Kuluna poses danger to aircraft

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The top of Nelum Kuluna (Lotus Tower) stands 350 above sea level in the heart of Colombo City, as the air navigators of old would say, sticking out like a ’sore thumb’. It has to be lit up in accordance with the Aircraft Obstacle Lighting recommendations contained in Annex 14 of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Convention originally signed by Ceylon in 1944.

A free-standing tower of that height is required by international law to be lit up not only at night with red lights, but also with high visibility white strobe lights during the day.

Unfortunately, they don’t seem to be on always during the day. The authorities concerned must realise that the strobe lighting during the day is not for beauty but for air safety, especially these days, when the air quality and visibility are low during the day.

Have those in charge of the tower been briefed properly on the legal requirement and the use of proper lighting? In case of an accident, this certainly will have implications on insurance claims.

I wonder whether the ‘Regulator’, Civil Aviation Authority Sri Lanka would like to comment.

If not rectified, it will be just a matter of time an aircraft will be impaled by the Nelum Kuluna.

I M Nervy (Aviator)

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Opinion

Simple questions to Sirisena and Gotabaya

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If Sirisena had not been informed of the plans to explode bombs on 21st of April 2019, as he has claimed, shouldn’t he have taken immediate action to call for explanation from Nilantha Jayawardena, then head of State Intelligent Service (SIS), who had been notified several times about the impending attack by the Indian intelligence.

Sirisena and Jayawardena should be prosecuted for allowing a mass murder to take place. Further Sirisena should be made to explain his famous uttering, “I will reveal everything, if somebody tries to implicate me”.

Why did Gotabaya, who announced his candidature for presidency almost immediately after the Easter Sunday attack and promised to punish those who were involved in it, pay no attention to Nilantha Jayawardena’s failure in taking necessary action with regard to information he received, instead he was given a promotion?

President Ranil Wickremesinghe at a meeting with USAID Administrator Samantha Power on September 11, 2022 had said that Scotland Yard had been requested to review the reports and reach a final conclusion on claims that there was a hidden hand behind the bombings.

We do not need Scotland Yard, just get an honest set of Sri Lankan police officers to question Nilantha, Sirisena and Gotabaya to find the “hidden hand behind the bombings”

B Perera

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Opinion

Open letter to Sirisena

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Y you were in Singapore when the Easter Sunday attacks took place. You claimed that you had not been informed of the intelligence received by your intelligence officers. However, the Supreme Court has ordered you to pay Rs 100M as compensation to the victims of the terror attacks. The reasons for the decision are stated in the judgement.

Acting on a claim that there was a conspiracy to assassinate you and former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya you caused the interdiction and arrest of DIG Nalaka Silva, who was held in custody without bail for a long time.

In his testimony to the Presidential Commission  of Inquiry, Silva said that he had been interdicted while plans were in place to arrest Zaharan.

Due to the arrest of DIG Silva, Zaharan escaped arrest. Silva was never charged. Zaharan continued with his plans and the rest is history.

After the SC order you have been claiming that you have no money to pay the Rs 100M as compensation. You are asking for public help to pay compensation to Easter carnage victims. You even accepted some money collected by a person called Sudaththa Tilakasiri, who begged from people.

You have said publicly that you submitted your asset declarations. I suggest that you sell all your assets declared in the declarations before asking for funds from the public.

Hemal Perera

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