After the end of a devastating 26-year civil war in 2009, the island of 22mn had the makings of an Asian economic success story. Under governments run by the powerful Rajapaksa family, annual economic growth peaked at 9 per cent. By 2019, the World Bank had classified the island as an upper-middle income country. Sri Lankans enjoyed a per capita income double that of neighbours such as India, along with longer lifespans thanks to strong social services such as healthcare and education. The country tapped international debt lenders to rebuild, becoming a key private Asian bond issuer and participant in China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
And yet now everything is in tatters (that passage is from a very good FT piece). Here is one bit:
Sri Lanka’s reserves have fallen from $7.5bn in November 2019 to the point where finding $1mn is “a challenge”, Wickremesinghe, the new prime minister, said in an address last week. This has meant shortages of not only fuel but food and medicine, with hospitals forced to postpone surgeries. The country has the worst inflation in Asia at about 30 per cent in April and the currency has almost halved in value since it was floated in March. The UN Development Programme says that nearly half the population is in danger of falling below the poverty line, and warns of a looming humanitarian crisis as the urban poor and former middle class begin to cut back on meals.
“Most people are down to one meal a day”, says her neighbour, Mohammad Akram, “but are embarrassed to admit it.”
I believe we have not yet internalized how rapidly a middle income country can fall from grace and into utter chaos.