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Sri Lankans in the middle as crisis heats up

The president resigns and flees the island nation, while the prime minister plans to resign next week


Protesters in the Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's office Associated Press/Photo by Rafiq Maqbool

Sri Lankans in the middle as crisis heats up

Two weeks ago, a child in Sri Lanka’s capital of Colombo told a team from the Save the Children relief organization that he only eats full meals when his father finds work for the day.

“If the father does not have work that day they would only have one meal,” said Chrruti Pieres, the agency’s communications manager in Sri Lanka. “That’s how children are interpreting this.”

The aid group said in a report last week that more than two-thirds of Sri Lankan families no longer have money to buy food as the country enters a major humanitarian emergency. Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis since its independence has stretched on, and a shortage of foreign currency has restricted essential imports such as food, fuel, and medicine.

The country’s dire situation drew renewed attention as frustrated Sri Lankans occupied President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s residences over the weekend, demanding they step down. The protesters began retreating in jubilation on Thursday as Rajapaksa resigned after fleeing the country. Wickremesinghe is serving as acting leader until lawmakers elect a new president next week.

Ranjan Weththasinghe, Save the Children’s program director in Sri Lanka, said his team is also struggling. They have found ways to cut down in-person meetings as fuel shortages have made transportation difficult and power cuts become more common. “If we want to go to the office or for any personal need, we have to walk now, and sometimes that means walking for 5 kilometers, 6 kilometers,” Weththasinghe said.

Some 70 out of 2,300 families surveyed by Save the Children said they have adopted “emergency-level” coping strategies, including child labor, child marriages, or illegal activities like theft or sex work.

With schools closed, the aid group has had to halt some of its programs like feeding school children and shift the focus to cash assistance, agricultural support, and other emergency interventions.

Weththasinghe said the team has prepared for multiple scenarios to continue to support families as the political impasse goes on.

“All of us as citizens of Sri Lanka are worried about what the next transition is going to look like and how peaceful things are going to be in the country,” he said. “The uncertainty is impacting everyone because we all feel the tension and the frustration of the general public and that’s what we see on the streets.”

World Radar

MYANMAR: Troops affiliated with the military junta have burned down at least 132 religious buildings since the military coup began in February last year, according to residents and rights groups. The list includes 28 Buddhist monasteries targeted in Sagaing state, while troops destroyed at least 66 churches in Chin state alone. At least 20 churches and one mosque were destroyed in Kayah state. Religious leaders have said the attacks are deliberate. Aung Myo Min, minister for human rights for the shadow National Unity Government, called on residents to document the destruction for future prosecution.

MACAU: The Chinese territory city shut down all its casinos and other businesses on Monday for the first time in two years. Macau, also known as the world’s gambling hub, is battling COVID-19. The territory of 700,000 has recorded more than 1,500 infections in the latest outbreak. Residents are ordered to stay indoors unless they are buying essential items. Authorities marked more than 30 zones in the city as high risk and placed them under lockdown.

NIGERIA: A growing malnutrition crisis in northwestern Nigeria is still receiving insufficient attention from humanitarian workers and local authorities, Doctors Without Borders said last week. The aid group said it has treated more than 50,000 children with acute malnutrition, including 7,000 who were hospitalized across the region’s five states since January. Militias and bandits have intensified killings and kidnappings in recent years, leaving many in the region unable to farm.

UNITED NATIONS: In an annual report coinciding with World Population Day on Monday, the United Nations projected the global population would reach 8 billion people on Nov. 15. India is also on track to replace China as the world’s most populous nation next year. The report also acknowledged the world is growing at its slowest rate since 1950. It expects the number of senior citizens globally to exceed the number of children younger than 5 by 2050. The UN said more than half of the population increase by 2050 would center in eight countries, including India, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Nigeria.

SYRIA: A U.S. airstrike in northwestern Syria on Tuesday killed Maher al-Agal, the Islamic State (ISIS) leader in Syria. The U.S. Central Command said another senior leader sustained injuries in the attack and Al-Agal was responsible for growing ISIS networks beyond Iraq and Syria.

DENMARK: A data center in the Danish city of Odense has discovered how to repurpose the heat generated from computer servers to provide hot water to nearby homes. The center sends water used to cool the servers through the district’s heating system to provide heat to more than 10 percent of the city’s 100,000 homes, the BBC reported.

Asia brief

Watching the shocking footage of Japanese former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe collapsing after he was shot on Friday, I recalled his Super Mario impersonation. He appeared as the Nintendo character at the 2016 Rio Olympics closing ceremony to promote the 2020 Tokyo Games. Seeing Japanese citizens line the capital’s streets on Tuesday as the hearse of their longest-serving prime minister passed, I remembered “Abenomasks.” Meaning Abe’s masks, it’s also a pun on Abe’s economic policy dubbed “Abenomics.” Abe was a popular but controversial leader. Many Japanese criticized the huge quantity of white cloth masks his administration procured at the beginning of the pandemic, claiming they were too small and defective. Following Tuesday’s private funeral, Japan will hold a state funeral for him this fall. —Joyce Wu


Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD’s Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University–Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria.

@onize_ohiks

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