As food and energy prices soar, Sri Lankans go without

Chandhana Silva and his family are belt-tightening in more ways than one these days.

The 45-year-old father of two works as a hotel waiter in the capital Colombo. His take-home pay is 25,000 Sri Lankan rupees ($123.2) a week, less than one-third of what he earned in the pre-pandemic days and far from what he needs to put enough food on the table as prices of staples like milk, sugar and cooking gas skyrocket in the island-nation.

“Our consumption pattern has completely changed now,” Silva, who lives in a suburb of Colombo, told Al Jazeera.

His family stretches milk further by watering it down and skips adding sugar in the morning. In the evening, they sweeten their tea but skip the milk.

Silva tries to have all of his meals at work to make sure his children, wife and her father get enough meat to eat.

“But still [they] are unable to have a better meal even once a day [unlike] earlier,” Silva said.

Global food prices have risen sharply as lockdowns to curb the spread of COVID-19 led to a drop in productivity and disrupted supply chains, pushing up transport and freight costs across the world.

Sri Lanka, which imports most essential items, including sugar and milk powder, has particularly felt the pinch. The depreciation of the Sri Lankan rupee due to inflation has further depleted the country’s foreign exchange reserves, which were already shrinking due to a drop in tourists and exports, the two key sources of US dollars.

To control food prices and hang on to its diminishing dollars, the Sri Lankan government in September capped prices of several food items, set limits on purchases at subsidised government shops and restricted imports to essential food items that cannot be produced in Sri Lanka.