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Sri Lanka faces a humanitarian crisis, its Anglican bishops warn

14 April 2022


Clergy seen during the protests in Sri Lanka against the President, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa

Clergy seen during the protests in Sri Lanka against the President, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa

THE 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 it became independent more than 70 years ago.

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 are running out of vital medicines, school exams have been cancelled owing to lack of paper, and newspapers are unable to publish.

The Government of Sri Lanka has approached international aid organisations, including the World Health Organization and the charity World Vision, for drugs and medical supplies.

A month of public unrest at the worsening crisis has spilled over into violence on the streets, and has been suppressed by government forces. The President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, whose economic mismanagement has been blamed by many for the crisis, accused an unidentified extremist group for the violence.

But the Bishops of Kurunegala, the Rt Revd Keerthisiri Fernando, and of Colombo, the Rt Revd Dushantha Rodrigo — said in a statement that there was no “credible basis for this conclusion”. They said that the protesters were the “desperate men and women of Sri Lanka asking for relief in the hope they will be heard”.

In a joint statement, the Bishops wrote: “The people of Sri Lanka irrespective of race, religion, caste, social class or political affiliation have been left to fight for their survival. They now face extreme hardship to maintain their basic existence. The unprecedented power cuts enforced on a daily basis and the never-ending shortage of fuel has severely hampered the livelihood of our people.

“We urge the President and the Government to listen to the cries of the people of this country and fulfil their fundamental obligations as a responsible administration. The state is duty bound to lay out its short, medium- and long-term plans for economic recovery as a matter of urgency. The government has to devise a mechanism for immediate infusion of foreign currency to the economy in order to avert a human catastrophe of an unprecedented magnitude.

“The suffering masses who have now run out of patience will continue to agitate and react with anger since there is still no sign of light at the end of this tunnel. To be blaming such actions on extremist forces is a dangerous attempt which can orchestrate further unrest with communal and religious undertones.”

The state of emergency imposed by the President after the protests was an “incentive to act with impunity”, they warned.

The President was forced to withdraw the state of emergency after it failed to keep protesters off the streets. His entire cabinet then resigned — apart from his brother, the Prime Minister — and he has called for a unity government to tackle the crisis. Three political parties have been in talks to form an interim government, with a new Prime Minister.

The country’s finance ministry said this week it will temporarily default on its foreign debts, blaming the impact of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

World Vision, which has been working in Sri Lanka for the past 45 years, said that it was prioritising food and the safety of children and families. It is already working with more than 100,000 vulnerable children.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, who is the Metropolitan of the Church of Ceylon, said that the events were “deeply concerning”.
In a statement on Friday, he said: “All Sri Lankans have felt the effect of the economic crisis. Many of those worst affected are already the most vulnerable and least able to withstand the economic impact.
“In the past few days, reports of protests and the repression of free speech have been particularly alarming. These are fundamental rights of all human beings, particularly in a crisis situation, and the immediate return of freedom of speech and democratic processes within the country is of utmost importance.

“I pray for quick and peaceful resolutions, for those suffering because of the economic crisis and for the Church of Ceylon as they continue to serve and support the people of Sri Lanka.”

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