Sri Lanka is facing a growing economic crisis. People have been taking to the streets to protest, in a rare show of unity for the island nation that for decades has been riven by divisions.

Sri Lanka was the jewel of the Indian Ocean: a thriving tourist destination, one of Lonely Planet’s top travel picks. 

Now the island paradise is in turmoil. 

Its population of 22 million face dire food and fuel shortages, and power cuts that can last for hours. 

Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets over the last few weeks, demanding the government step down over the crisis. 

The country is a big importer of food and other products, but it’s been spending beyond its means for years.  

Then Covid-19 hit and its biggest economic earner – tourism – was wiped out. 

Newshub reporter Kethaki Masilamani has been watching it all unfold, and keeping in contact with her parents, who’ve been in Sri Lanka visiting her grandmother and old friends. 

When the protests first kicked off, they were relatively small. Around that time, Masilamani says an old classmate started talking about power cuts. 

“It’s not the first time the country’s had power cuts, so I wasn’t alarmed yet.” 

But the cuts were lasting half a day or longer and affecting hospitals and nursing homes. 

“That’s the catastrophic part. We’ve heard of surgeries being performed under phone torch lights. That’s when it starts getting dire.” 

Masilamani watched on from New Zealand as the protests slowly took over her social media feeds, the streets filling with students, trade unionists, farm workers and doctors shouting, “go home Gota” – directed at the President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. 

“It wasn’t just my socially-minded classmates, it was affluent people taking to the streets because even they couldn’t afford to buy food.” 

It’s a rare show of unity in a country that’s been divided after 30 years of civil war. 

Masilamani tells The Detail her family members, who are spread around the world after fleeing the civil war, are heartbroken by the scenes. 

“It’s a really sad situation because what they experienced [during the civil war], now the whole country is experiencing, and it’s not something you’d wish on anyone. 

“But at the same time, there’s incredible hope at these protests. It is so rare to see a show of unity on the scale that they’re seeing.” 

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Sharon Brettkelly is co-host of The Detail podcast.

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