ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday April 13, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 46
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Food emergency looms

The National New Year dawns today, the people celebrating what is left to celebrate. The mood in the country is sombre, but the islanders, resolute as they have been for so long in the face of continued adversity, look towards the dawn with hope for a new beginning.

That the overall picture is gloomy, none can deny. In the North, a protracted insurgency takes its toll in every way possible. For the long-suffering people of this part of the country, the dawn of the New Year or Puththandu is just another day in their otherwise miserable lives.

The Government has an uphill task. Many voices have kept the hopes of a nation upbeat with the liberation of the East from the clutches of a separatist movement that is second to none among the world's terror groups. But progress in the Northern theatre is slow, and casualties heavy on all sides.

In the rest of the country, the guerrillas have left their bloody paw-marks. Cornered and embattled, they have become as expected, more vicious. Turning the pages back, this is what we had to say at this time, last year;

Legitimate questions are, however, being asked 'where have all these rituals, performed according to the Punya Kalaya or the auspicious time, taken us - especially in the past 20 years and more' The people are once again in the throes of a heightened insurgency".

The heightened insurgency we referred to, is today a spiralling cycle that continues further unabated, the futility of winning a separate state by means of armed conflict still to be evident to the guerrillas holed up in the jungles of the Wanni.

But as we also said last year, not all of Sri Lanka's problems are 'Made in the Wanni'. Many of them are 'Made in Colombo'. About this time last year, the eastern Batticaloa district, now 'liberated' and holding elections, was flooded. This time round, the rains have lashed all parts of the country mercilessly, causing not only flooding but also ruining a huge proportion of the rice harvest.

It was not that unseasonal rains were unexpected -- if the authorities concerned had cared to take a lesson from the events that unfolded in the Batticaloa district last year, the scenario may have been different.

But taken completely off-guard, the various Ministries and multiple State agencies overseeing the agrarian sector were caught flat-footed when the rains came down in torrents and flooded the rice fields, leaving the hapless farmer in crisis.

As we have often said, Governments are very poor at disaster prevention -- and rely too much on post-disaster management. It is just that the damage is done by then. Today we see a people facing a rice shortage as they 'celebrate' the New Year; prices of every conceivable product soaring -- vegetables, gas, coconuts, coconut oil, milk foods -- all quickly, and surely, going beyond the ordinary family's reach.

A Sunday Times report quoting a price chart from the Department of Census and Statistics appearing on page 2 shows that consumer goods have risen by an average of 75 per cent, some by over 100% since the last Avurudu.

The President is reported to have conceded the high cost-of-living in the country at a Central Bank symposium this week, but had argued that the rate of poverty has dropped and blamed critics of his Government for not acknowledging this.

The Central Bank is now under fire for mathematical gerrymandering with its latest Cost-of-Living Index that has overnight brought the inflation rate down from 22% to a single digit. Unfortunately, this does not help bring the price of rice or coconuts down. The President referred to the need, apart from defeating terrorism -- on which there can be no argument -- for "dynamic economic growth". How? He did not spell out.

His Government is a sorry spectacle of waste, corruption, mismanagement and ad-hocism. How "dynamic economic growth" can flourish under these factors, one cannot fathom.

Our columnist from the United Nations says on Page 15 that the UN itself is concerned of a global food crisis, and lists Sri Lanka among the 11 hunger-prone countries heading towards a "food emergency". Those are sobering thoughts as we herald a New Year. Still, it's the National New Year; a time for quiet reflection as well.

The economic hardships notwithstanding, an entire generation has missed out on the goodwill and fellowship shared by the different communities that inhabit this land during the festive seasons of yesteryear.

The people, mainly the ordinary folk from the North, South, West, East and the Central highlands can probably take a bow for their resilience in the face of such adversity, and hope -- against hope -- that the New Year will be a better one than the last so many have been.

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