SRI LANKA: Rupee Devolution May Lead to Malnutrition and starvation Among the Poor 

The value of the rupee came down to 131 for a US dollar. This is the highest point reached relating to the value of a rupee ever. In all likelihood, it will go up further even though by artificial means, it may be brought down a little now and then. Thus, the high devaluation of the rupee has come to stay.

How this will affect the livelihoods of ordinary folk is a central issue of concern from a human rights perspective. Food, medical care and education will be areas in which there will be a worse form of impact. All these three areas affects the lives of people now as well as for the future. In the future, the impact of losses in this area will affect physical and mental health and also the possibilities of acquisition of skills and knowledge that the young would need in order to maintain stable lives in the future. Thus, these matters should be of highest concern for the government and for everyone else who is concerned about the welfare of the people.

The first consideration needs to be for those who are, with great difficulty, adjusting to the new situations after long periods of displacement in the north and east of Sri Lanka. They have had to face the brunt of these problems for a considerable period of time, and according to government records (if one were to go by them) some beginnings have just been made by these people to initiate getting back to some kind of normalcy in their lives.

Already, there are reports that there are enormous problems affecting the livelihoods of these people. BBC Sinhala service recently reported that there are villages in which women who have lost their husbands have taken to prostitution to find ways to feed their children. Such a change of position is a reflection of the acute economic problems within Tamil society where family values have been held in highest esteem. When economic conditions affect people so much that the very foundation of their families are being disturbed, this is an indication of things going too far and being extremely difficult.

What the conditions of health facilities and education facilities for such displaced persons who are now trying to find their way into a normal life is still not known very much. From the little information which is available, it is very clear that normal schooling systems are not functioning, and normal health facilities are not available. How will further increases in the cost of living, particularly the cost of medicine, affect the people who are in this condition? They should receive the attention of the government, the general public and the various international agencies who are providing humanitarian assistance.

It should not be the case that these people should be pushed into situations of malnutrition or starvation. The possibility of that happening under these conditions is something that should be expected and therefore, precautions should be taken in order to provide special facilities for these people to keep up with the rising cost of living.

The issue of possible malnutrition and starvation should not be treated as something that should be looked into when it happens, but when there is the possible circumstances which could lead to such a situation, steps should be taken for the prevention of such an occurrence. In facing acute economic problems affecting basic livelihood issues, the approach always needs to be one of prevention rather than cure; prevention rather than dealing with more critical problems if things go wrong.

From an economic point of view, things have gone wrong in terms of the value of rupee, and other issues, such as the rise of oil prices. Any perceptive public servant who had to deal with the areas of food and other public services to these sections of society should act with far sight and take the necessary actions for prevention.

Of course, much does not depend purely on public servants alone. The real responsibility in the context of the political system that has come to be in Sri Lanka is on the shoulders of the president and those who act on his behalf at the highest levels. Getting the attention of the highest levels to the poorest sections of society is never an easy task. When things are difficult, it is those who are in the most comfortable positions who complain the loudest and exert enough pressure to get whatever concessions they can get from those who are handling the public purse. That makes the situation of people like those who are in the north and east of the country and among the more poorer sections even more vulnerable. The means of getting public attention is not available to them.

It is well known that the media has very little access to the people living in these areas, and that the circumstances are so difficult that communication is not at all adequate. Under such circumstances, particularly the local media plays a very important role to draw their problems to the attention of the public. However, the public media in Sri Lanka has shown little interest in the people who are in difficult circumstances in the north and east. The media channels of the newspapers in these areas have been constantly affected by various forms of repression.

Under these circumstances, it is also the duty of those who claim to be guardians of the nation’s conscience, such as the various leaders of religious groups and also other people who are exerting public influence to keep the issue of the possible developments relating to scarcity of food and other basic necessities for the people of these areas at a time when the economy is facing dangers that it has never faced before.

The same plea needs to be made for the people around Sri Lanka who are among the working classes/lower socioeconomic statuses. The protests that came from the fisher-folk following the rise of oil prices manifested how acute the problems of basic livelihood are for the people of these communities. There are such communities throughout the country and their conditions need to be constantly brought to the surface so that the authorities and the nation know the problems they face. Other than the fisher folk, there are communities in the estates and also people with very low income levels who will be facing similar situations in the time to come. Among them, special attention must be paid to children, the elderly and other such vulnerable groups, who have the least income. Those who have the least income face the value of the legal money they have going down the consequence is that their capacity to gain basic services/items such as food, education and healthcare greatly suffer.

Therefore, attention should be drawn now that the economy is facing one of the worst situations that Sri Lanka has ever faced, to avoid the possibility of malnutrition and starvation being spread. Everything depends on the capacity of the people to notice problems early and engage in early warnings on behalf of the people who are worse conditions within society. In these circumstances, the AHRC appeals to all people to be concerned with the people of lower income groups than themselves and make special efforts to articulate their problems and create social alertness for eradicating the consequences of an economic crisis.