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Leave No One Behind: Building a disability-inclusive COVID-19 recovery plan for Sri Lanka

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By Lakshila Wanigasinghe

Persons with disabilities (PWDs) are an important group that needs to be considered when building an all-inclusive COVID-19 recovery plan. They often tend to get excluded or only partly considered due to the heterogeneous nature of the difficulties they face owing to the diversity in the types of disabilities and support required. This blog explores the significant challenges faced by PWDs amidst COVID-19 and outlines strategies that Sri Lanka can adopt towards ensuring an inclusive recovery.

PWDs and Emerging Challenges

Over 1 billion people around the world live with some form of disability, accounting for 15% of the world population as shown in Figure 1. Around 80% of PWDs live in developing countries including 1,617,924 persons in Sri Lanka (as of 2012). Hardships faced by such persons are greater for those living in developing countries due to limited resources and facilities available to them. Many developing countries lack resources to detect disability early on, have inadequate rehabilitation facilities, and lag in updated research and strategies to support PWDs. This is the case in Sri Lanka where PWDs have inadequate access to society, education, specialised healthcare, and employment opportunities in comparison to developed countries.

Adversities faced by PWDs have escalated due to COVID-19. A study conducted by Global Disability Inclusion found that apart from heightened health risks, the pandemic significantly affected the employment and financial security of PWDs. This can widen existing disparities and lead to long-term consequences such as higher poverty rates, lower wages and increased costs of living among such persons, thereby leaving lasting impacts on their lives.

While COVID-19 has affected the global population, its effects are distinct and intensified for PWDs. Their pre-existing health conditions put them at greater risk of contracting the virus, experiencing severe symptoms and higher mortality rates. Depending on the nature of their disability, some individuals are unable to effectively communicate their symptoms or practice preventative measures such as regular sanitisation.

Lack of access to public health information due to physical, mental or sensory impairments poses a higher risk of PWDs contracting COVID-19 by being unaware of symptoms and precautionary measures that need to be taken. Disproportionate access to information also poses a threat when implementing recovery procedures.

Lockdowns and social distancing policies limit access to caretakers and medical professionals, putting those unable to care for themselves at substantial risk while in isolation. Lockdowns can also prevent PWDs from accessing basic necessities and seeking regular medical care. Further, school closures and the switch to distance education have led to higher learning disruptions among children with disabilities. This is more pronounced for children in developing countries due to factors such disproportionate access to technology, and lack of assistive devices and in-person support.

Overcoming the Challenges

An understanding of the barriers faced by PWDs is essential to ensure an inclusive recovery. Therefore, it is vital to consult PWDs and engage organisations that work with these groups –such as the Department of Social Services and the National Secretariat for Persons with Disabilities (NSPD) – throughout the decision-making process of creating a disability-inclusive recovery plan. Information about the disease such as ways of contraction, symptoms, precautionary measures and procedure to follow in the event of contracting it should be made readily available in accessible formats. This includes presenting COVID-19 related information in sign language, captions, braille, graphics, etc.

It is important for PWDs to be prioritised during the vaccination process. If active efforts are not made to include these groups, they will be disproportionately excluded, and will be among the last to receive vaccinations. The healthcare systems should identify PWDs that meet the eligible vaccination criteria and provide them information on vaccination.

However, this requires proper procedures to be in place for these individuals to register for vaccinations, along with disability-accessible vaccination centres and regular monitoring of such persons upon completion of the vaccination process. The NSPD and other local organisations that work with these groups can be utilised to make the process more accessible and effective. Further, special vaccination drives solely targeting PWDs are an option to ensure effective and efficient vaccination.

In addition, social protection systems should be enhanced to support PWDs better, especially those adversely impacted by COVID-19. A commendable initiative by the government was the extension of its COVID-19 relief cash transfers beyond regular recipients (PWDs in low-income households) to those in the waiting list and groups specially identified by rural committees. However, to ensure long-term recovery and prevent low-income groups from slipping into poverty, these groups should be evaluated by the NSPD and absorbed into the existing social protection system.

Road to Recovery

COVID-19 has exposed many weaknesses in healthcare, education and social protection systems worldwide, such as high levels of inequalities and the lack of inclusivity. To ensure sustainable post-COVID recovery, resources should be strategically allocated to support all groups of people and inclusion must be made a priority to build a lasting recovery plan.

In the long-term attention should be directed at building more inclusive systems that are better equipped at serving all groups of people and are more resilient to shocks in the future. A starting point for Sri Lanka would be to increase disability-accessible infrastructure (in public buildings, public transport, restrooms etc.), provide better healthcare and rehabilitation facilities, actively engage PWDs in the workforce, reduce stigma surrounding disability, and increase engagement between PWDs and society at large.

Link to original blog: https://www.ips.lk/talkingeconomics/2021/08/16/leave-no-one-behind-building-a-disability-inclusive-covid-19-recovery-plan-for-sri-lanka/

Lakshila Wanigasinghe is a Research Assistant at IPS with research interests in poverty, social welfare, development, education, and health. She holds an MSc in Economics with a concentration in Development Economics and a BA in Economics with concentrations in International, Financial and Law and Economics from Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC), US. (Talk with Lakshila – lakshila@ips.lk).



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Lanka inflation hit 70.2% in August

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Food prices climbed 84.6 percent, while prices of non-food items rose 57.1 percent in the crisis-hit island nation.

(Al Jazeera) Consumer inflation in Sri Lanka accelerated to 70.2 percent in August, the statistics department has said, as the island nation reels under its worst economic crisis in decades.The National Consumer Price Index (NCPI) rose 70.2 percent last month from a year earlier, after a 66.7 percent increase in July, the Department of Census and Statistics said in a statement on Wednesday.

Food prices climbed 84.6 percent, while prices of non-food items rose 57.1 percent in the tourism-dependent South Asian country of 22 million people.The Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) in August said the inflation rate would moderate after peaking at about 70 percent as the country’s economy slowed.

The NCPI captures broader retail price inflation and is released with a lag of 21 days every month.The more closely monitored Colombo Consumer Price Index (CCPI), released at the end of each month, rose 64.3 percent in August. It acts as a leading indicator for national prices and shows how inflation is evolving in Sri Lanka’s biggest city.

Sri Lanka’s economy shrank 8.4 percent in the quarter through June from a year ago in one of the steepest declines seen in a three-month period, amid fertiliser and fuel shortages.

“Inflation is expected to taper from September,” said Dimantha Mathew, head of research for Colombo-based investment firm First Capital. “However, inflation is only likely to moderate and reach single digits in the second half of 2023.”

An acute dollar shortage, caused by economic mismanagement and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, has left Sri Lanka struggling to pay for essential imports including food, fuel, fertiliser and medicine.

The country earlier this month reached a preliminary deal with the International Monetary Fund for a loan of about $2.9bn, contingent on it receiving financing assurances from official creditors and negotiations with private creditors.

India on Tuesday said it had begun talks with Sri Lanka on restructuring its debt and promised to support the crisis-hit neighbour mainly through long-term investments after providing nearly $4bn of financial aid.

The High Commission of India in Colombo said it held the first round of debt talks with Sri Lankan officials on September 16.

“The discussions held in a cordial atmosphere symbolise India’s support to early conclusion and approval of a suitable IMF programme for Sri Lanka,” the High Commission said.

Sri Lanka will make a presentation to its international creditors on Friday, laying out the full extent of its economic troubles and plans for a debt restructuring.

The Indian High Commission also said New Delhi would continue to support Colombo “in all possible ways, in particular by promoting long-term investments from India in key economic sectors”.

India’s support to Sri Lanka this year has included a $400m currency swap, a $1bn credit line for essential goods and a $500m line for fuel. In addition, India has also deferred payment on Sri Lankan imports of about $1.2bn and given a credit line of $55m for fertiliser imports.

The High Commission said India had continuing development projects worth about $3.5bn in Sri Lanka, whose president earlier this month asked his officials to resolve obstacles to projects backed by India. He did not specify the obstacles or the projects.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe has said Sri Lanka will turn a free trade agreement with India into a comprehensive economic and technological partnership.

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Raigam Wayamba Salterns Group turnover tops 1 bn

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Raigam Wayamba Salterns PLC saw its group turnover increase from Rs. 959.6 million to Rs. 1,147 million recording a growth rate of 19.5% year on year.Despite the fact that the financial year 2021/2022 was filled with many challenges, as a result of prudent management practices implemented and followed, the Raigam Wayamba Group was capable of reporting its ever-highest growth in 2021/2022,” said Chairman, Raigam Group, Dr. Ravi Liyanage.

Raigam Wayamba Salterns PLC, which was listed in the Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) in 2010 is the front line player in the value added salt market in Sri Lanka and it supplies a range of consumer salt products under the popular brands “Isi”, “Ruchi”, “Welcome” and “Triple Washed” as well as various salt products used as an input for different industries in bulk form.All the consumer products of Raigam Wayamba Salters are SLS certified for its quality and consistency and the processes are ISO certified.’8

The Raigam Wayamba Salterns Group is equipped with salterns, salt refineries and processing plants located in Puttalam and Hambantota districts. In addition to that the raw material supply for these operations has been ensured by the 1,800 Acre saltern established in Kuchchaweli in Trincomalee District by the parent company of the Raigam Group. Further the Puttalam Salt Limited (one of the successor to the National Salt Corporation) is also an associate company of the Raigam Group.

The well-known Raigam brand and state of the art island wide distribution network are distinct strengths of the Raigam Group. The Raigam distribution network operates on a latest IT platform and also includes distribution channels for modern trade, industry and bakery sectors.

Sri Lanka’s economy which was under-performed for two years due to COVID pandemic situation was experiencing the impacts of the foreign exchange crisis in the latter part of the financial year 2021/2022. Despite the fact that the financial year 2021/2022 was filled with many challenges, as a result of prudent management practices implemented and followed, the Raigam Waymba Group was capable of reporting its ever-highest growth in 2021/2022.

The group turnover increased from Rs. 959.6 million to Rs. 1,147 million recording a growth rate of 19.5% Y to Y. At the same time the Profit after Tax grew from Rs. 149.7 million to Rs. 215.6 million at an annual growth rate of 44%. As a result of these successful financial performances the Earning Per share for the year stood at Rs. 0.76 compared to Rs. 0.53 in the corresponding year. This has made a significant impact on the value of the shareholders’ investment increasing the Net Asset Value Per Share form Rs. 5.06 to Rs. 5.74.

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Singer’s legendry sewing industry and Academies developing skills and entrepreneurship in Sri Lanka

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A name synonymous with Singer (Sri Lanka), Singer sewing machine has over the years become an indispensable product at local households, helping thousands of women and men to make a living through a sewing business. For over six decades, Singer has been manufacturing its trademark sewing machines in Sri Lanka. Singer brand has claimed many firsts in sewing machine innovations including the world’s first zig-zag machine and the first electronic sewing machine.

Singer Industries, a subsidiary of Singer (Sri Lanka) manufactures traditional, portable and digital sewing machines at a fully-fledged facility, where it provides direct employment for over 100 factory workers and accommodates around 150 service agents. The traditional sewing machines are of two variants such as the straight stich and the zig-zag sewing machine, while the portable and digital sewing machines cater to the modern customers. Singer Industries is mandated with assembly of sewing machines and manufacturing of cabinets and stands for sewing machines.

The sewing machine stands and cabinets are 100% locally manufactured with the help of local suppliers who also depend from sewing machine manufacturing. Singer Industries also consists of a strong R&D section for sewing machine innovations. All the sewing machines produced by Singer Industries are distributed by its parent company, Singer (Sri Lanka) through their 431 distribution touch points. Currently, Singer sustains its dominance as the market leader for domestic sewing machine industry with a market share of 85%. Among the facilities, Singer Industries provides to its customers, it has deployed special service technicians at island wide service centres for technical assistance and support related to sewing machines. Its YouTube channel has access to over 130 technical assistance videos to further support its valued customers.

The name ‘’Singer’’ is closely associated with sewing. One of its major contributions to the local sewing industry is the Singer Fashion Academy. For more than 60 years, the Academy has helped thousands of individuals to develop sewing skills and become entrepreneurs. The Fashion Academy conducts sewing courses and diplomas while a degree pathway is to be implemented soon to further support students. The Academy is also the first and only institute in the country to receive course validation status from the Chartered Society of Designers (CSD) in the UK.

As of today, the academy consists of 54 branches Island wide and offers 22 sewing courses, 2 diplomas and another 10 courses as part of its Diwi Saviya program for low-income families. Annually, over 5000 – 6000 students get enrolled in Singer Fashion Academy’s courses. In addition to the physical classes, the academy conducts online courses and also provides a recorded version of lessons to further facilitate students. During the last decade, over 60,000 students have successfully completed the Fashion Academy’s courses and some of these students have already started their own sewing businesses. The Fashion Academy has helped in developing the passion of sewing among Sri Lankans and as a result, sewing has become a hobby among many.

Sewing can be considered one of the most feasible self-employment opportunities with its potential to generate a good income. A business of one’s own is a luxury at present due to current economic crisis. Many individuals who started their sewing businesses from scratch have developed their businesses to highly profitable ones. Singer Fashion Academy has all the resources ready to help develop sewing skills and is committed to develop a skilled workforce for the betterment of the country.

(Company news release)

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