Needed: Anti-Hunger Budget

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Over six million people or 30 per cent of Sri Lanka’s population are “hungry” or in danger of going hungry due to the economic crisis, the World Food Programme (WFP) in a recent report warned.

Government needs to address this crisis urgently, prioritising it over other crises, including the fuel crisis. Hunger is a key cause for mass social unrest, an example being the 1789 French Revolution.

It is expected that the key focus in the revised 2022 Budget, to be presented by Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe shortly, will be all about tackling hunger.

“Steeply increasing food prices have crippled the population’s ability to put sufficient and nutritious food on the table,” the WFP report, titled ‘WFP Sri Lanka Situation Report’ and released on Wednesday, said. (See also Friday’s lead story in Ceylon Today)

 Further, two in five households or 40 per cent of all households are not consuming adequate diets. “Three in 10 households (6.26 million people) are food insecure in Sri Lanka, of whom 65,600 are severely food insecure. Majority of households are eating less preferred and less nutritious food and reducing the amount of food they eat,” it said.

Also, the majority of assessed households (61 per cent) are regularly employing food-based coping strategies like eating less preferred and less nutritious food and reducing the amount of food they eat, the report warned.

The food security situation is worst among people living in the estate sector where more than half of households are food insecure. In all measures of food insecurity and coping strategies, these households have consistently poorer outcomes than urban and rural populations, WFP said.

While urban households are depleting savings to cope for now, estate populations are already turning to credit to purchase food and other necessities.  An estimated 200,000 households are using emergency livelihood coping strategies that are likely to severely impact their medium- to long-term capacity for income-generating activities, the report said. WFP anticipates that even more people will turn to these coping strategies as the crisis deepens.

WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) are undertaking an in-country mission to assess crop and food security until next week. This is the second phase of a two part Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission (CFSAM) following the completion of a household level survey in June, it said.

Once completed, the findings from the CFSAM will further inform WFP and FAO’s priorities to support the Government in alleviating the economic and food security challenges. A full report of the CFSAM is expected by the end of August, it added.

WFP has so far received US$18.14 million from the governments of Australia, Japan and New Zealand. This represents 28 percent of its emergency appeal for $63 million.

Three million people are targeted by WFP to receive emergency food, nutrition, and school meals until December, it said.

WFP has also reached about 2,100 pregnant women (88 per cent) of its initially targeted 2,375 beneficiaries in Colombo. This is the first round of WFP’s emergency food assistance to support the most vulnerable populations, starting with nutritionally at-risk pregnant women registered in the Government’s ante-natal care programme across nine maternal clinics in Colombo.

  Each pregnant woman receives three vouchers with a combined value of Rs 15,000 (roughly half the monthly cost of a nutritious diet for a family of four) to supplement the family’s ability to purchase nutritious food and other necessities, it said.

WFP is scaling up its emergency food assistance with upcoming cash-based transfers and general food distributions in selected districts. WFP will start implementation soon, prioritising vulnerable households whose incomes have been affected by the crisis, the report said.

In partnership with the Government, WFP will support one million schoolchildren aged five to 10 with school meals starting in October. WFP will prioritise vulnerable schools, where the Government’s national school meals programme has been halted due to budget constraints, it said.  WFP has purchased iron-fortified rice, pulses, oil and commodities. These are expected to arrive in August.

WFP is also supporting the resumption of Sri Lanka’s Thriposha nutrition programme that provides food fortified with vitamins and minerals to malnourished children under five, and pregnant and lactating women, it said.