House heats up over malnutrition claims

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A heated argument broke out in Parliament yesterday (22) over the food crisis among schoolchildren.

The Opposition stressed that while schoolchildren are facing a severe food crisis and malnutrition, the Government has not been able to do anything to provide a balanced meal for the children so far.

MP K.P.S. Kumarasiri said at least 20 children in three schools in Vilachchiya, Anuradhapura had fainted during school hours due to starvation. “It was reported on Wednesday (21), that a child in Minuwangoda had brought coconut kernel for lunch. This is a pathetic situation,” Kumarasiri said.

In response, Minister of Health Keheliya Rambukwella said there have been several isolated incidents in that regard. However, some persons, together with media have given unnecessary attention to those isolated incidents. They are trying to generalise the issue, he added.

“It is true that there is an issue. I accept that. But certain persons try to generalise such isolated incidents. We spoke to the Principal of that Minuwangoda School and other authorities. The reports about a child brining coconut kernel for lunch are not true. However, I will look into the incidents Kumarasiri mentioned,” he said.

This is not the first time. Once, a doctor in Hambantota claimed that malnutrition was observed among 80 per cent of the school children in Hambantota. That claim too, was found to be baseless and inaccurate. The health officers in the area reported that only five per cent of children in Hambantota District are suffering from malnutrition, Rambukwella added. Joining in the conversation, SJB MP Harshana Rajakaruna told the Minister to admit the ground situation and find solutions without accusing officials, who are the messengers.

“You should not shoot the messengers. Instead, you have to look into the reality in this country. This will be a long-term issue, if we fail to address in now. Children should be fed, before spending money on Cabinet and State Ministers,” Rajakaruna said.

MP Dullas Alahapperuma said about 1.1 million schoolchildren have been affected over the past two years after the programme to provide free meals to schoolchildren was stopped.

BY Methmalie Dissanayake