Sri Lanka faces a humanitarian crisis, its Anglican bishops warn
Bishops of the Church of Ceylon have urged the Sri Lankan government to ‘listen to the cries of the people’ and act quickly to avert a humanitarian crisis, as the country faces the worst economic downturn since its independence more than a year ago. 70 years old.
The country is experiencing high inflation, power cuts and food shortages. People have to queue for hours for limited food and fuel supplies, and health services have been affected by power cuts. Hospitals lack life-saving drugs, school exams have been canceled for lack of paper, and newspapers cannot publish.
The Sri Lankan government has approached international aid organisations, including the World Health Organization and the charity World Vision, for medicines and medical supplies.
A month of public unrest over the worsening crisis turned into violence in the streets and was put down by government forces. Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, whose economic mismanagement has been blamed by many for the crisis, has blamed an unidentified extremist group for the violence.
But the Bishops of Kurunegala, Rt Revd Keerthisiri Fernando, and of Colombo, Rt Revd Dushantha Rodrigo – said in a statement that there was no “credible basis for this conclusion”. They said the protesters were “desperate Sri Lankan men and women asking for help in the hope that they will be heard”.
In a joint statement, the bishops wrote: “The people of Sri Lanka, regardless of their race, religion, caste, social class or political affiliation, have had to fight for their survival. They now face extreme difficulties in maintaining their basic existence. The unprecedented power cuts imposed daily and the endless shortage of fuel have severely hampered the livelihoods of our people.
“We urge the president and the government to heed the cries of the people of this country and fulfill their basic obligations as a responsible administration. The State has a duty to urgently present its short, medium and long-term economic recovery plans. The government must devise a mechanism for the immediate injection of foreign currency into the economy in order to avoid a human catastrophe on an unprecedented scale.
“The suffering masses who have now lost patience will continue to agitate and react with anger because there is still no sign of light at the end of this tunnel. Blaming extremist forces for such actions is a dangerous attempt who can orchestrate new unrest with communal and religious overtones.
The state of emergency imposed by the president after the protests was an “incitement to act with impunity”, they warned.
The president was forced to withdraw the state of emergency after failing to stop protesters from taking to the streets. His entire cabinet then resigned – with the exception of his brother, the prime minister – and he called for a unity government to deal with the crisis. Three political parties are in talks to form an interim government, with a new prime minister.
The country’s finance ministry said this week it would temporarily default on its external debt, blaming the impact of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
World Vision, which has worked in Sri Lanka for 45 years, said it prioritized food and the safety of children and families. It already works with over 100,000 vulnerable children.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Metropolitan of the Church of Ceylon, said the events were “deeply concerning”.
In a statement on Friday, he said: “All Sri Lankans have felt the effects of the economic crisis. Many of those most affected are already the most vulnerable and the least able to withstand the economic impact.
“In recent days, reports of protests and the crackdown on freedom of expression have been particularly alarming. These are fundamental rights of all human beings, especially in a crisis situation, and the immediate return of freedom of expression and democratic processes in the country is of the utmost importance.
“I pray for quick and peaceful resolutions, for those suffering from the economic crisis and for the Church in Ceylon as they continue to serve and support the people of Sri Lanka.”