Sri Lanka vis-à-vis COVID-19 vaccine coverage has been ranked 21st out of 24 countries in ‘developing Asia,’ an ADB study released on Tuesday showed.
Data on the ADB study showed that Sri Lanka had vaccinated 17.2 per cent of its 22 million, population, against COVID-19 working out to a vaccine coverage of 3.8 million of its population. This has to be looked at in the context that the global average for vaccine coverage is 39.2 per cent, i.e. more than double than that of Sri Lanka’s while that of ‘developing Asia’s’ vaccine coverage at 41.6 per cent is nearly two-and-half times greater than that of Sri Lanka’s.
The 20 countries ahead of Sri Lanka vis-à-vis vaccine coverage were Palau (139.6 per cent), Mongolia (112 per cent), Nauru (96 per cent), Maldives (93.6 per cent), Singapore (91.7 per cent), China (85.2 per cent), Bhutan (62.8 per cent), Marshall Islands (56.1 per cent), Hong Kong (49.7 per cent), Micronesia (41.4 per cent), Cambodia (39.6 per cent), Korea (39.5 per cent), Azerbaijan and Fiji (34.6 per cent each), Samoa (28.8 per cent), Tonga (27.6 per cent), India (24.3 per cent), Malaysia (24.2 per cent), Kazakhstan (23.6 per cent) and Timor- Leste (17.4 per cent), respectively.
And the three countries behind Sri Lanka in a cross section of ‘developing Asia’s’ vaccine coverage taken by ADB for the purpose of this study were Brunei (16.9 per cent), Indonesia (15.8 per cent) and Laos (15.1 per cent), respectively.
‘ Sri Lanka saw strong economic recovery in first quarter 2021, only to have a third COVID-19 wave hit in April, bringing islandwide restrictions since mid-May and adversely affecting tourism and other economic activity. Some relaxation of restrictions has occurred since late June,’ ADB said.
Nonetheless, coinciding with these developments, Sri Lanka‘s monthly poverty line had its highest jump both in percentage and numerical terms in at least 12 months, last month (June 2021), sharply increasing by Rs 79 (1.51 per cent) to Rs 5,312; June 2021 over May 2021, available Census and Statistics Department (CSD) data also released on Tuesday showed.
This increase follows Sri Lanka‘s monthly poverty line jumping by Rs 56 (1.08 per cent) to Rs 5,233; May 2021 over April 2021, thereby recording its second highest increase, both in absolute (numerical) and percentage terms in the review 12 month period.
The jump in the national poverty line coincides with countrywide food inflation accelerating to double digits, to 10.3 per cent in May 2021 after a lapse of seven months. Last month’s (June’s) countrywide inflation data has still to be published by CSD, but CSD data showed that last month’s Colombo District’s food inflation was 11.3 per cent, the first time Colombo’s food inflation hit the double digit level after a lapse of seven months. CSD on a monthly basis releases countrywide and Colombo’s inflationary data only and not inflationary data of the remaining 24 districts in the country on a monthly basis.
Sri Lanka had its last poverty census five years ago in 2016. In that census, at a poverty cutoff limit at Rs 4,166 per month, per person, it was found that 4.1 per cent or 843,913 of the country’s population were in poverty.
Since then to last month the poverty cutoff point has increased by 27.51 per cent (Rs 1,146) to Rs 5,312; driven by inflation.
Inflation is driven by supply and demand. The supply side vis-à-vis food inflation rests on factors such as imported food inflation, yield, health, and transport costs. Those that impact yields are the weather, pestilences and the health of the farmer. Transport is impacted by roads, fuels and the maintenance cost of transport vehicles.
Sri Lanka doesn’t produce fuel. It has to be dependent on imports to meet its fuel requirements. So the increase in fuel prices last month may be construed as being beyond the control of the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL). The same may be true vis-à-vis imported food inflation.
But one inflationary factor that may be controlled, is the health of the farmer who is at the bottom of the food supply chain and going up to the other agents in the supply chain such as transport agents, wholesalers, retailers and the labourers in the food chain, such as the ‘naatambis’ in the Pettah.
The health factor giving a boost to inflation these days is COVID-19, interspersed with lockdowns, travel restrictions and at times curfews, which latter three factors though not applicable to food transport, nonetheless cannot be construed as being positive factors to fight food inflation.
Therefore, what is required on an urgent basis is speeding up the vaccination process to ensure the health of those in the food supply chain.
If President J.R. Jayewardene said that his first priority is jobs, second priority is jobs and third priority is also jobs, the slogan of GoSL should be first priority vaccinations, second priority vaccinations and the third priority is also vaccinations.
The definition of the poverty cutoff point or poverty line is the minimum monthly income an individual has to make to be above poverty. A person earning a monthly income equivalent to the poverty line or above is not in poverty. But a person whose monthly income is below the poverty line is defined as being a person who is in poverty.