No hope in sight as Sri Lankan families go hungry

STORY: This handful of dried fish is the last bit of protein Nilanthi Gunasekera and her family have left at home in Sri Lanka.

The 49-year-old is just one of the millions of people there whose living standards took a cliff dive in the past months.

"We had an alms-giving session on the 25th of last month. That was the last time we had a proper meal."

The island nation was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, rising oil prices and an economic crisis after years of mismanagement.

The UN says more than a quarter of the country’s 22 million people are now struggling to secure adequate, nutritious food.

What worries Gunasekera even more, though, is her children’s future.

“We will educate the children as best we can.”

But the crisis has left her family unable to even afford notebooks, and her husband can now only rely on the charity of employers for money to buy them.

Nearby, Chandra Thushari Peiris is preparing to reopen her food kiosk after months of closure.

Business petered out after Sri Lankans could no longer afford indulgences like the rolls and roti she serves up.

And her husband, an auto-rickshaw driver, has now lost his income, of about $18 a day.

The couple can still feed their children, but at the cost of going hungry themselves.

“Now he stays at home because of the petrol shortage. If we borrow, it becomes a loan. We feed the children, and we could also eat, but we would have to get into debt to live."

Amid rampant inflation, snaking fuel queues and shortages of essentials such as food and medicine, angry Sri Lankans ousted the previous president in July.

But the desperation has only continued to grow.

"Today, we decided that we should reopen this shop.

If we do something we could earn some money. We have been just waiting for something, but nothing has happened."

The government of new President Ranil Wickremesinghe is seeking a multi-billion-dollar bailout in talks with the International Monetary Fund.

Still, any major financial help is months away.

And for most Sri Lankans, there appears to be no light at the end of the tunnel.