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Over 9 Million Sri Lankans Have Slipped Into Poverty Since January, Finds Study

Over nine million people, or more than 40% of Sri Lanka’s million population, have slipped into the official poverty bracket due to the country’s unending economic crisis, a recent survey conducted by a reputed university has found.The steepest rise in poverty levels took place after January this year, said professor Wasantha Athukorala from the Department of Economics and Statistics at the University of Peradeniya, who oversaw the island-wide survey. “This is a very serious situation in the country,” professor Athukorala told this writer in an email interview.

“Poorer households are the hardest hit owing to food inflation, job losses, limited fertiliser supply and drop in remittances.” According to him, the latest changes in the tax structure – increased direct and indirect taxes – have only exacerbated the situation, affecting innumerable middle income families and sparking murmurs of more mass discontent in Sri Lanka. Although the country’s economic indicators had been slipping visibly since 2021, massive street protests shook the nation from March this year, leading to the abrupt resignation of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in May and the dramatic escape of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in July.

The Rajapaksas are widely blamed for the economic mess, caused by irrational tax cuts, curbs on imported fertiliser, huge spending on projects now dubbed as ‘white elephants’, external borrowings and widespread corruption. Normally, the Department of Census Statistics (DCS) estimates poverty in Sri Lanka using the Household Income and Expenditure