March 2022: Civil society protests erupted across the country. Hundreds of protestors gathered around the president’s residence demanding his resignation and that of his government. More than 50 people were injured and hospitalised.
1 April 2022: The government declares a state of emergency and curfew. Protests and rallies grow nationwide
16 April 2022: The IFRC allocated CHF 691,002 from the Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) to support the SLRCS to provide assistance to 400,000 people
9 May 2022: Protesters in Colombo and other parts of the country are attacked, and their camps destroyed by the prime minister’s supporters. The violence resulted in 10 deaths, over 250 injured, 45 buses burnt and nearly 150 properties destroyed, mainly belonging to ruling party parliamentarians. The prime minister was compelled to resign. Over 1,500 people were arrested and over 900 detained for further investigations.
May 2022: Sri Lanka’s president declared a State of Emergency on 6 May 2022, the second time in a span of five weeks.
June 2022: The IFRC issues an Emergency Appeal for CHF 28 million to support 500,000 affected people.
DESCRIPTION OF THE EVENT
Civil unrest and food insecurity were sparked by an economic crisis in Sri Lanka that has been building during the COVID-19 pandemic since March 2020. The pandemic, with all its containment measures, resulted in a rapid decline in foreign currency income primarily through Sri Lanka’s adversely impacted tourism sector, worker and diaspora remittances, foreign direct investment (FDI) flows, and world trade.
As one measure to save foreign currency reserves, the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) limited the import of essential items. Protests erupted due to the resulting shortages, for instance of milk, dhal/lentil, locally produced vegetables, rice, bread, wheat flour, cooking gas, fertiliser, and fuel, and due to the very high increase in prices of these commodities. Medications and medical consumables were also in short supply.
In the first quarter of 2022, the GoSL was unable to import petroleum products such as diesel, petrol, coal, and other hydrocarbons used in thermal power plants. This resulted in long power cuts (even up to 13 hours a day), long queues at fuel and cooking gas stations for days, and disturbed schedules of public transport services. Between March-May 2022, the cumulative fuel price increase was 170 per cent. In addition, the shortage of essential food and household items continued to deteriorate.
Moreover, since the GoSL decided to limit the import of non-organic fertiliser from January 2022, homegrown agricultural product inflation increased to 24.7 per cent in February 2022, due to a shortage in production. By April 2022, food inflation in the country increased to 45.1 per cent from 29.5 per cent in March 2022. However, actual annual inflation estimated by Johns Hopkins University reached 132 per cent as of March 2022. Besides the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the tourism industry, import production, and fishing industry were also severely affected by the X-Press Pearl ship disaster of May 2021, which continues to pollute the coastal and marine environments affecting livelihoods.
The shortages of food, fuel, and medicine turned months of protests into violence which killed 10 people and injured more than 250, as of May 2022. Sri Lanka’s president declared a State of Emergency on 6 May 2022, the second time in five weeks. Protests and violence have continued to take place sporadically, even after a new prime minister was appointed on 12 May 2022 to lead the government.