© Reuters Laborer Singaram Sosayamuttu, 44, who lost both legs during Sri Lanka’s civil war, digs on rented farmland to plant groundnuts in Mulathivu, Northern Province, Sri Lanka, on August 13, 2022.
By Jeeven Ravindran.
MULATIVU, Sri Lanka (Reuters) – Under the scorching sun, a 44-year-old Tamil laborer tends to a rented groundnut field in Sri Lanka, pounding the ground in a daily struggle to beat soaring prices that have fueled demand. Where they do not reach.
In the year “I have more problems than a daily wage labourer,” said Singaram Sosayamuttu, who can only walk on the palms of his hands after the 2009 airstrikes.
This happened at the end of the 26-year civil war between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
Today’s economic crisis is the second blow to Mulathivu, a northern coastal district of Sosayamuttu, after the majority of the Tamil population was affected by the last violence of the war.
Many residents work as day laborers to get by, but they can’t.
“If I go to work for a day’s wages, no one will hire me, and can’t we go and work like this?” he asked.
He worked as a fisherman before Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis in seven decades, which dried up oil supplies and forced him to turn to peanut farming instead.
“Although we need to control our own hunger, can’t we say to our children, ‘Look, this is all there is to eat, now just go to sleep’?” he said.
His family is among the 6.2 million Sri Lankans estimated to be food insecure by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization as food inflation hit 93.7 percent last month.
Sri Lanka’s financial crisis is a result of economic mismanagement and the coronavirus pandemic that has devastated the tourism sector.
For months, the 22 million people have been hit by power cuts, high inflation, a depreciating rupee and a shortage of foreign currency, making it difficult to pay for food, fuel and medicine.
Mulathivu is Sri Lanka’s second poorest district, with 58% of households living in poverty, according to a June study by Save the Children, and the highest number of those who say they have lost all income due to the crisis, about a quarter.
Nationally, 31% of adult respondents, like Sosayamuttu, have cut back on the food they take to feed their children.
“They are being pushed from bad to worse by this economic crisis,” said Soma Somanathan, founder of Vani’s Tears, a charity that helps people in the region.
Somanathan, who is based in Sydney, added: “They are really being pushed back to where they were straight after the war.
Senthepan Kalachelvi, who was hit by gunfire after being displaced in the final months of the war, said the adults in her family sometimes go hungry to feed the children and she can barely take a bath every day because of fuel shortages.
“The poor in this area are still being pushed,” said the 38-year-old housewife, who has a prosthetic limb replacing the stump of her left leg and right arm.
Kalachelvi, widowed and unable to work due to her disability, relies on her mother’s work as a day laborer and earns 5,000 rupees ($14) a month from Vani Tear.
The United Nations Refugee Agency He estimated in 2010 that the final phase of the civil war displaced nearly 300,000 Tamils like Kalachelvi from their homes.
Sri Lanka is extending a relief effort covering 4 million homes to include those affected by the crisis, said Ministry of Social Development Secretary Neil Hapuhin, and plans to provide direct monthly cash transfers to an additional 600,000 people.
After 51.3 billion rupees ($146 million) were paid to 3.2 million households this year, “the most deserving will be identified and helped,” Hapuhin added.
A $200 million loan from the Asian Development Bank would ease the food crisis, but the government has turned to the World Bank and United Nations agencies.
At Mulaithivu in the evening, Sosayamuttu left Spain at the end of the day. It may take two months to measure the success of the peanut harvest.
“If prices were lower, we wouldn’t be fighting so hard,” he said. “Now even being 10% OK is a struggle. Things are expensive.”