Sri Lanka: One year after mass uprising, economic turmoil

Food and healthcare costs continue to surge, and poverty rate has doubled, but at least tourists are back.

COLOMBO – In the low-income neighbourhood of Wanathamulla in Colombo city, Mrs Pushpa Galhena, 57, described a tough life in numbers, not sentiment.

“I have electricity bills overdue for half a year, two microfinance repayments of 3,000 rupees (S$13) and 1,000 rupees I have to pay daily for 45 days, medical expenses of 8,000 rupees a week, food to buy and overdue rent of 25,000 rupees a month,” she said, rattling off the figures like a bank teller rather than a retired school teacher, as she helped her 60-year-old husband through the narrow lanes into a tuk-tuk.

“Oh, and bus and tuk-tuk fares are around 600 rupees every Thursday,” she added, referring to their weekly trips to the hospital for her husband’s dialysis.

After she retired in 2019, Mrs Galhena had used her meagre savings and a bank loan to open a stationery and photocopying shop that also sells toffee and snacks.

It was supposed to be her family’s ticket out of poverty, but two months into it, the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and she was forced to temporarily close the fully stocked store.

In 2021, she got a severe case of Covid-19, and her husband was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. When she tried to crowdfund medical expenses, she lost 300,000 rupees – all she had – to online fraud.

As Mrs Galhena grappled with personal crises, her country took a nosedive into bankruptcy.

Shop owner Pushpa Galhena, 57, shows a list of daily payments she makes towards a microcredit loan, at her store in Wanathamulla, Colombo. PHOTO: AMILA GAMAGE
Mrs Galhena’s business has dropped since 2021 and has become worse as the cost of living has skyrocketed. PHOTO: AMILA GAMAGE

Since then, every attempt she has made to shake off her troubles seemed to add new ones, much like Sri Lanka’s agonising attempts to recover from its economic crisis.