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Urban poverty triples in Lanka

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By Meera Sirinivasan

As Sri Lankans continue braving their worst economic crisis since Independence, urban poverty on the island has tripled in the last year, from 5% to 15 %, according to a recent World Bank report.Sri Lanka is experiencing “its highest poverty rate since 2009 [when the civil war ended], and an erosion of the steady gains in welfare made between 2006 and 2019,” the Bank noted in its recent Sri Lanka Development Update titled ‘Protecting the poor and vulnerable in a time of crisis’, released earlier this month.

While 80% of Sri Lanka’s poor still live in rural areas, the poverty rate in urban areas has tripled since 2021, and half the population in estate areas is currently living below the poverty line, it said, referring to Sri Lanka’s hill country that is home to the island’s historically-neglected Malaiyaha Tamils. About 1.5 lakh people, mostly women, from the million-strong community work in the tea estates, bringing in crucial foreign exchange to the country.  They live in dire conditions, in colonial era line rooms, and labour hard to be paid their hard-won LKR 1000 daily wage.

Across districts, Mullaitivu in the Tamil-majority Northern Province continues to be the poor est — 57 % poverty recorded in 2022 — followed by neighbouring Kilinochchi and Nuwara Eliya in the Central Province [hill country], the report said.   The update comes while Sri Lanka struggles to cope with a harrowing economic crash, that forced the government to default on its $50 billion foreign debt in April. The following months witnessed enormous shortages of essentials, including food staples, fuel and medicines, as well as an unprecedented people’s uprising that ousted former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Backed by a parliamentary vote, senior politician Ranil Wickremesinghe was elected President in July. While essential supplies have since improved, with the government’s fuel rationing policy and repurposed World Bank funds, the fundamental macroeconomic problems remain.

Headline inflation increased to 69.8% in September 2022, while food inflation spiked to 94.9%. Amid frequent local media reports of hunger and starvation, resulting in a rise in school dropouts in some areas, the World Food Programme and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization have assessed that nearly a third of Sri Lanka’s 22 million population are food insecure since the crisis hit.

Emphasising that national security is ensured not only with the military, but also through food and economic security, President Wickremesinghe has called for “urgent measures”, his office said on Tuesday, following a review meeting of the government’s ‘National Food Security and Nutrition Assurance Programme’. His government, while facing growing public criticism over inadequate action and repression, is counting on a $2.9 billion package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), that will be released only after Sri Lanka’s creditors commit to a debt restructuring programme.

As part of its recommendations, the World Bank has urged the government to increase financing for social assistance; come up with a social protection strategy, that includes an operational Welfare Benefits Board and a Social Registry, to enable effective targeting of social security programmes, given the addition of “newly poor” families. It has also called for an increase in cash transfers, to account for the double-digit inflation.

Meanwhile, rights watchdog Amnesty International, in a report on the current economic situation in Sri Lanka released on October 4, made a case for universal social security that sections in Sri Lanka have also sought.

Highlighting limitations to existing programmes in Sri Lanka, Amnesty, in the report titled ‘We are near total breakdown’ pointed to the “lack of sufficient funding, inadequacy of the level of benefits, poor targeting, and the exclusion of a large proportion of people due to administrative inadequacies.” “The targeting of benefits based on levels of poverty has been criticised by experts for arbitrariness, excluding people who should be covered, stigmatising effects, and higher administrative costs,” the report said. (The Hindu)

 



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Embassy officer arrested at BIA remanded

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The Embassy official who was attached to the Sri Lanka Embassy in Oman who is accused of being involved in a human trafficking racket was arrested by officers of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and remanded till the 13th of December when he was produced before the Colombo Chief Magistrate

The official was arrested on his arrival at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) this morning (29 November).

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Easter Sunday terror attack suspect hacked to death

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By Norman Palihawadane

A 38-year-old Easter Sunday terror attack suspect was hacked to death yesterday morning (28) in Mattakkuliya.

The victim, Mohamed Badurdeen Mohamed Harnas, was a resident of Safiya Avenue, Mattakkuliya, police said.

A suspect in the Easter Sunday terror attacks, he had been released on bail.

The suspect was rushed to the National Hospital, Colombo, after three individuals, who arrived in a car around 10. 00 am, attacked him.

Two persons attacked the man while the other was keeping the car engine running, according to eyewitnesses. The attackers thereafter fled in the same car.

Harnas was pronounced dead on admission to hospital.

Further investigations in this regard are currently underway.

The victims family members said that Harnas had been taken into custody, following the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks, but later released as there was no evidence of his involvement in terrorist activities.

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Rail service between Mahawa and Jaffna to be suspended for five months

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Transport Minister Bandula Gunawardena told Parliament yesterday that the railway services between Mahawa and Jaffna will be suspended for a period of five months in 2023.

The Minister said that operations will be suspended from January 15, 2023.

The Minister said it was to repair work on the railway line.

He said so in response to a question raised by Vanni District MP Selvam Adaikalanathan.

“We are focusing our attention on the request made by you. We have to halt railway operations between Mahawa and Jaffna for five months from January 2023. Train services have been continuously operating to Jaffna, but now we have faced a situation as we have not been able to carry out any repair work thus far,” the Minister said.

Assuring that this issue can be rectified in five months, Minister Gunawardane said that, thereafter, a good railway service can be provided for this route.

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