Asia’s ticking debt bomb: Sri Lanka crisis sounds alarm bells across region

Disaster looms in Laos, Bangladesh and elsewhere as China seems reluctant to take losses on Asian loans

A customer hands over Sri Lankan rupee banknotes at an open market in the capital, Colombo. The country is currently experiencing its worst economic crisis in decades.    © Getty Images

CHANDANA POKUNA, Sri Lanka — Every day after 4 p.m., residents in this quiet, leafy village listen for the putt-putting of motorbikes on the sandy road next to their homes. When they hear it, they know to shut their doors and turn off their lights. Their children are instructed to run inside and not let anyone in.

A motorbike is the vehicle of choice for local debt collectors, who fan out through places like Chandana Pokuna, some 500 brick-faced, rundown houses in Sri Lanka’s rice-farming north central district of Polonnaruwa. The motorcycle men, agents of microlending companies, start work in the late afternoon, when they know residents will be at home.

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Sri Lanka fuel shortage takes massive toll on efforts to save wildlife

  • Sri Lanka continues to face the brunt of the worst economic crisis in the country’s history, with depleted foreign reserves resulting in acute fuel shortages nationwide.
  • The shortages and limited rations are affecting conservation efforts, including the timely treatment of wild animals, regular patrolling to thwart poaching, and mitigation actions to limit human-elephant conflict.
  • Fuel allocations for the wildlife conservation department have been halved, and both wildlife and forest officials say this has made operations extremely difficult.
  • The threat of forest fires also looms as the dry season gets underway, which typically calls for more patrols to prevent burning by poachers and forest encroachers.

COLOMBO — Anyone who’d ever seen Maheshakya in the wildernesses of Kebithigollewa in Sri Lanka’s North Central province agreed that, as elephants went, he was an exemplary specimen with large tusks. Earlier this year, he got into a fight with another elephant, which left Maheshakya seriously wounded. As he lay in pain, still alive and conscious, a poacher cut off one of his tusks. Twenty days later, Maheshakya was dead.

In the time since Maheshakya had suffered his injuries during the fight, veterinarians from the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) were able to check on him just twice. Before this year, Maheshakya would have received many more visits, possibly preventing the loss of his tusk and subsequent death. But Sri Lanka’s ongoing economic crisis, the worst in the country’s history, meant that was not to be.

“If we had more opportunity to treat the elephant and visit frequently, there was a chance of saving his life. But we did not have fuel in our vehicles to make this journey regularly,” said Chandana Jayasinghe, a wildlife veterinary surgeon at the DWC.

Sri Lanka has declared bankruptcy and lacks foreign reserves to import essential goods for its people, such as medicine, fuel and gas. Kilometers-long lines at gas stations have become a permanent scene throughout the country, and although a rationing system is helping shorten the wait times, what little fuel is available isn’t enough for wildlife officials to do their regular work. This leaves response teams, like the one Jayasinghe works on, often unable to go out on rescue missions.

The Attidiya Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in Colombo receives several calls a day regarding injured animals, but has been forced to reduce operations due to fuel being in short supply. Image courtesy of the Attidiya Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.

Rescue operations affected

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Nghèo đừng chơi sang

XÊ NHO 08/08/2022 16:41 GMT+7

TTCT Rất lạ – Mỹ tăng lãi suất để chống lạm phát là chuyện nước họ; thế mà nước nào cũng lo nền kinh tế của mình bị ảnh hưởng. Thậm chí tờ Washington Post, trong một podcast, đặt vấn đề theo hướng: Vì sao lãi suất ở Mỹ có thể kéo theo khủng hoảng đói kém toàn cầu?

Nghèo đừng chơi sang - Ảnh 1.

Dân Sri Lanka xếp hàng đợi đổi bình gas nấu ăn. Nợ nần đã khiến ngân khố cạn kiệt. Ảnh: The Telegraph

Để độc giả dễ hình dung, tờ này ví von: Bạn mua nhà, trả góp 30 năm – hằng tháng phải đều đặn trả một khoản tiền. Giả dụ tiền mua nhà trả bằng đôla Mỹ, trong khi thu nhập của bạn tính bằng đồng peso, nên phải đổi từ peso sang đôla mới có tiền trả góp. 

Giả định mỗi năm bạn làm ra 100 peso và tiền trả góp mua nhà là 5 USD, nếu đồng đôla lên giá gấp đôi, bạn phải để ra số peso nhiều gấp đôi mới đủ trả nợ. Thế nên tiền đi chợ, tiền thuốc men… hụt đi, khả năng đói kém hiển hiện.

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Why Sri Lanka’s Unrest Is an Omen

JULY 11, 2022, FP Newsletter

One year ago today, thousands of people took to the streets across Cuba to protest the skyrocketing prices of essential goods. It was the largest event of civil unrest on the island since the 1990s—and as journalist Lillian Perlmutter writes in a riveting dispatch, a disproportionate number of those arrested in an ensuing crackdown on dissent came from Havana’s poorest enclaves. Perlmutter reports that new laws passed by the Cuban National Assembly of People’s Power in May threaten citizens’ civil liberties further, criminalizing any participation in an unauthorized demonstration of two or more people, punishable by four to 10 years in prison.

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How the Sri Lankan economy run out of money to pay for food and fuel

Posted Fri 24 Jun 2022 at 9:06amFriday 24 Jun 2022 at 9:06am

A woman cooks using a firewood hearth outside her house to the right of a small alleyway of houses.
Sri Lankan residents are using firewood to cook as fuel supplies become scarce during an economic crisis.(AP: Eranga Jayawardena)

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Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister says the island nation’s debt-laden economy has “collapsed” as it runs out of money to pay for food and fuel.

Short of cash to pay for imports of such necessities and already defaulting on its debt, the country is seeking help from neighbouring India and China and from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who took office in May, has emphasised the monumental task he faces in turning around an economy he said was headed for “rock bottom”. 

Sri Lankans are skipping meals as they endure shortages and lining up for hours to try to buy scarce fuel.

It’s a harsh reality for a country whose economy had been growing quickly, with a growing and comfortable middle class, until the latest crisis deepened.

How serious is this crisis? 

Sri Lankan auto rickshaw drivers queue up to buy petrol near a fuel station in Colombo, Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan auto rickshaw drivers queue up to buy petrol in Colombo. (AP: Eranga Jayawardena)

The government owes $US51 billion ($73.9 billion) and is unable to make interest payments on its loans, let alone put a dent in the amount borrowed.

Tourism, an important part of economic growth, has sputtered because of the pandemic and concerns about safety after terror attacks in 2019.

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PODCAST – Asia Stream: Asia’s Inflation Dilemma

Rising prices are hurting wallets across the world. The crisis is particularly bad in Sri Lanka and Turkey, and in Japan, people are facing inflation for the first time in decades.

Nikkei staff writersMay 20, 2022 07:38 JST

NEW YORK — Welcome to Nikkei Asia’s podcast: Asia Stream.

Every episode, Asia Stream tracks and analyzes the Indo-Pacific with a mix of expert interviews and original reporting by our correspondents from across the globe.

New episodes are recorded biweekly and are available on Apple PodcastsSpotify and all other major platforms, and on our YouTube channel.

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Chiến lược “ngoại giao bẫy nợ” của Trung Quốc

Huỳnh Hoa Chủ Nhật,  28/1/2018, 07:40 

Cảng nước sâu Hambantota ở Ấn Độ Dương. Do không trả được lãi vay của Trung Quốc, Sri Lanka buộc phải nhượng cho Bắc Kinh quyền sử dụng hải cảng này 99 năm. Ảnh: Wikipedia

(TBKTSG) – Gần đây ngày càng có nhiều quốc gia ở Đông Nam Á và Nam Á rơi vào bẫy nợ của Trung Quốc: vì không trả được nợ mà phải nhượng đất nhượng biển, hoặc làm theo những yêu cầu chính trị và ngoại giao của Bắc Kinh. Với đại dự án “Một vành đai, một con đường” (BRI – Bell and Road Initiative) đi qua nhiều nước mà Chủ tịch Trung Quốc Tập Cận Bình đang ra sức quảng bá, dự đoán sẽ có thêm nhiều nước mắc vào chiếc bẫy này.

Câu chuyện Sri Lanka

Tháng 12 năm ngoái, Chính phủ Sri Lanka phải cho một doanh nghiệp nhà nước Trung Quốc thuê hải cảng Hambantota trên bờ Ấn Độ Dương 99 năm để “cấn trừ” bớt khoản nợ mà nước này đã vay để phát triển khu vực hẻo lánh này. Tiếp tục đọc “Chiến lược “ngoại giao bẫy nợ” của Trung Quốc”

Religious extremism poses threat to ASEAN’s growth

Asia – December 13, 2017 3:14 pm JST Cover story

Aided by social media, hardliners gain mainstream support

GWEN ROBINSON, Chief editor, and SIMON ROUGHNEEN, Asia regional correspondent

Buddhist monks protest the visit of a U.N. official in Yangon on Jan. 16, 2015. According to local media reports, they were angry that the international organization had urged the government to give members of the Rohingya minority citizenship. © Reuters

YANGON/JAKARTA — With Mt. Agung billowing volcanic ash into the sky above his home in Bali, Khairy Susanto was unsure if he could fly back after joining tens of thousands of fellow Indonesian Islamists at a rally near the presidential palace in Jakarta.

“Inshallah, we can fly, but it doesn’t matter, we will be OK,” Susanto said. “We are happy to be here today to celebrate our victory.” Tiếp tục đọc “Religious extremism poses threat to ASEAN’s growth”

Dozens of men describe rape, torture by Sri Lanka government


LONDON (AP) — One of the men tortured in Sri Lanka said he was held for 21 days in a small dank room where he was raped 12 times, burned with cigarettes, beaten with iron rods and hung upside-down.

Another man described being abducted from home by five men, driven to a prison, and taken to a “torture room” equipped with ropes, iron rods, a bench and buckets of water. There were blood splatters on the wall. Tiếp tục đọc “Dozens of men describe rape, torture by Sri Lanka government”

Sri Lanka probes ‘longest saree’ wedding for using kids


A Sri Lankan couple walk along a road as the bride attempted to set a record for the longest wedding saree extending 3.2 kilometres in the central district of Kandy (Photo: AFP/STR)

COLOMBO: A Sri Lankan couple is under investigation for deploying hundreds of school children to carry the train of the bride’s saree during a wedding ceremony, authorities said Friday (Sep 22).

About 250 students of a state-owned school carried the train of the 3.2km long saree worn by the bride as she and the groom walked down a main road in the central district of Kandy on Thursday, local media reported. Another 100 students served as flower girls at the wedding. Tiếp tục đọc “Sri Lanka probes ‘longest saree’ wedding for using kids”

Massive mound of garbage collapses in Sri Lanka, killing 20