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A journey into Sri Lanka's despair

Economic collapse deepens but calls for systemic change go unheard

Vehicles line up to buy petrol in Colombo on June 17. Long lines are a common sight across Sri Lanka due to a fuel shortage.    © Reuters

COLOMBO -- For me this catastrophe is personal. I am half Sri Lankan, and Colombo is my hometown. After an almost three-decade absence, I returned to Sri Lanka in my 40s and spent a decade traveling its length and breadth to write a travel memoir.

I arrived at Colombo's Katunayake airport in late April, my first visit in over two years, due to the pandemic. A score of porters stood idle around luggage conveyor belts -- a sign of chronic overstaffing in Sri Lanka's public sector. Once on the Southern Expressway, driving to the south coast, there were striking differences from pre-pandemic times: Roadside billboards were denuded of advertising; shops and small tourist hotels and eateries were shuttered and boarded up.

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