Sri Lanka crisis pushes war-shattered Tamils to brink

STORY: Tamil laborer Singaram Soosaiyamutthu tends to his rented patch of peanut field where he works under a blazing sun.

It's a physical job, one he finds harder than most after an air strike in 2009 during Sri Lanka's 26-year civil war took both his legs and injured his left arm.

But the 44-year-old's efforts are necessary, as he and many others face a daily struggle to beat current inflation that has put many essentials out of reach.

"I have more difficulties than a daily wage laborer because sometimes they manage to get by on a day-to-day basis, some of them manage to do one or two days of work. But I don't have that opportunity, do I? Because if I go for daily wage labor, nobody will hire me, and it's also not possible for people like me to go and work like this, is it? Now that I've taken my own initiative and am trying to do my own thing, that's fine and I'm doing that."

Today's economic crisis is the worst Sri Lanka has seen in seven decades.

And it marks a second blow for the northern coastal district of Mullaitivu, where the mostly Tamil population was ravaged by the war's final offensive.

Soosaiyamutthu previously worked as a fisherman, but fuel supplies dried up, forcing him to turn to peanut farming to earn money.

"That's why we have to deal with our hunger on our own. We can't tell our children, 'Look kid, this is all there is to eat, now just go to bed,' can we? The main problem we have in our lives at the moment is the cost of supplies, particularly rice, flour, sugar, lentils and other food items. If the prices of those items go down, we won't be struggling so much."

His family is among 6.2 million Sri Lankans estimated to be food insecure by a U.N. agency, as food inflation hit an eye-watering 93.7% last month.

Housewife Selvakumar Saroja also struggles to feed her family -- she says if she doesn't eat, then neither does her baby.

"The problem is we don't have anywhere else to go. We struggle to get food as we're all living and depending on one person's salary for everything. Only if the head of the local charity comes and gives us donations do we have any money. My eldest son doesn't get any work, he's just staying at home."

The financial crisis was brought on by economic mismanagement and the global health crisis, which destroyed the country's tourism sector.

For months the population of 22 million has struggled with power cuts, rampant inflation, a plummeting rupee and a shortage of foreign exchange reserves that made it difficult to pay for imports of essentials.

Sri Lanka is extending a welfare effort that covers 4 million homes to include those hit hardest by the crisis, according to authorities.

It also plans to send monthly cash transfers to a further 600,000 people.

The government has also turned to the World Bank and U.N. agencies for help.