Human security remains at risk in Sri Lanka

The human security status of Sri Lanka has depreciated due to deep-seated and pervasive issues linked to the country's economy and politics. To overcome pressing challenges related to human security, the government needs to have a well-designed policy framework in place.

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Human security remains at risk in Sri Lanka (Photo: Twitter)

According to the United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security, today’s world is an insecure place, full of numerous threats on many fronts. Long-lasting violent conflicts, uprisings, hunger, poverty, natural disasters, and epidemics like COVID-19 are inescapable. The concept of security has evolved significantly during the past decades and concentration has been diverted to the concept of human security.  

As stated in the Global HDR (1994) report, the concept of security has been interpreted narrowly - as security of territory from external threats. As they further stated this narrow approach was categorically widened to include the safety of people which centered on individual aspects. The report further identified seven categories of human security: economic, health, food, political, community, environmental, and personal security. The author argues that political security, economic security, food security, environmental security and health security components have deteriorated in the existing context of Sri Lanka.

Political insecurities

A series of mass protests commenced in March 2022 in Sri Lanka against the Rajapaksa regime. Sri Lankans protested for months demonstrating issues mainly related to the economy, corruption, and mismanaged policies. When political security is secured in a country, political repression and human rights abuses cannot exist. But it is problematic whether Sri Lanka preserves the values of political security. Amnesty International reported how authorities fiercely clamped down on protests and demonized protestors during a period of economic crisis and hardships. A brutal attack was launched against the peaceful protestors who located on Galle Face Colombo which symbolizes the political repression against the protestors who exemplify their burning issues. The previous president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, had to flee the country due to the month-long mass public demonstrations that demanded his immediate resignation. 

Ranil Wickremesinghe has been elected as the new president of Sri Lanka, and experts assert that he is a carbon copy of the previous regime. Even though he has assured the rights of peaceful, non-violent assembly, there aren’t any positive signals regarding democratic protests and the right to protest. This signposts the vulnerabilities and insecure aspects of political insecurity in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka is going through of the world’s worst economic crises from which there is no clear path to redemption. As per the data of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, consumer price inflation was marked as 12.90 in January 2022, and in October 2022 it was marked as 62.40. According to the 2022 Global Hunger Index, Sri Lanka ranks 64th out of 121 countries and it identified that Sri Lanka has a level of hunger that is moderate. The incomes of people are decreasing and food prices have skyrocketed dramatically. Approximately 56,000 children in Sri Lanka are suffering from severe acute malnutrition as stated by UNICEF. The effects of economic insecurity have a domino effect on the food security and health security of Sri Lanka. Severe economic conditions will probably become more common in the coming months. All these facts substantiate that there are widespread and unresolved issues in the context of economic security and food security in Sri Lanka. 

Health insecurities

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the health security of many countries has been devastated and Sri Lanka also went through a bad time. Although some argue that the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to knocking down Sri Lanka’s economy, there are some deep-rooted causes beyond the catastrophic pandemic. As a consequence of the economic decline of Sri Lanka, the health sector has become moribund. Malnutrition, unsafe food, and lack of access to basic health care are an indicator of health insecurity status. 

Presently, Sri Lanka is experiencing calamitous health insecurity issues all over the country. As a result of struggling with adverse economic conditions, Sri Lanka has abruptly increased the prices of commonly used medications, which has been reported by leading international media. Bans on essential goods, including food and medications, symbolize the severity of insecurity issues related to health and food.

Pollution is a serious threat to the environmental security of a country. As per recent data, the air quality of Sri Lanka has dropped to unhealthy levels. Foggy or misty conditions were apparent in Colombo city and other parts of the country and were eventually identified as a consequence of bad air quality levels. According to the National Building Research Organization (NBR0), in many corners of the country air quality levels have been between 150-200 and as per the reports, the air quality level is expected to deteriorate further. Further, it warned that this air pollution can generate adverse effects on the health of people. 

The human security status of Sri Lanka has depreciated due to deep-seated and pervasive issues linked to the country's economy and politics. To overcome pressing challenges related to human security, the government needs to have a well-designed policy framework in place. 

(The author is an Assistant Lecturer, Department of International Relations, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka. Views are personal. She can be contacted at sandamali@inr.cmb.ac.lk)

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