COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka’s Catholic bishops on Thursday called for unity among the country's politicians, warning that the South Asian island nation is fast becoming a failed state amid its most severe economic crisis in memory.
A foreign exchange crunch in Sri Lanka has led to a shortage of essential goods such as fuel and cooking gas, and power cuts now last up to 13 hours a day.
“All successive governments to date are responsible in varying degree for the present state of affairs," the Catholic Bishops Conference in Sri Lanka said in a statement, adding that "the present government as well as those in the opposition ... must adopt a conciliatory not a confrontational approach” and they should not “play the blame game.”
“The country is fast approaching the precipice of a failed state that will in its wake inflict irreversible injuries on the people," the statement added.
The bishops called on Catholic institutions and individuals to provide assistance to the most affected groups.
Roman Catholics comprise about 6% of Sri Lanka's 22 million people, while the majority Buddhist Sinhalese make up more than 70%. Though small in numbers, the church has traditionally been active and vocal in social issues as well as in education, welfare and the arts. Church officials are generally influential and respected by the country's leaders, who are mostly Buddhists.
Sri Lanka's economic woes are blamed on successive governments not diversifying exports and relying on traditional cash sources like tea, garments and tourism, and on a culture of consuming imported goods.
The COVID-19 pandemic dealt a heavy blow to Sri Lanka’s economy, with the government estimating a loss of $14 billion in the last two years.
Sri Lanka also has a severe foreign debt problem after borrowing heavily on projects that don't earn money. Its foreign debt repayment obligations are around $7 billion for this year alone.
According to the Central Bank, inflation rose to 17.5% in February from 16.8% a month earlier. The numbers are expected to rise even further in the coming months because the government has allowed the local currency to float freely, resulting in higher prices for fuel and other goods.