UNICEF warns of worsening child malnutrition in Sri Lanka

Last week, Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe pompously declared, “No citizen shall go hungry, no child shall be malnourished.” Media reports claimed that the President is establishing an “accelerated national multi-sectoral combined program to ensure food security and protect children from malnutrition.” .

Young family of Deeside Estate in Maskeliya, Sri Lanka, September 12, 2022. [Photo: WSWS]

Wickremesinghe’s cynical proclamation followed a series of public warnings from international and local authorities about the growing number of starving families and cases of severe child malnutrition in Sri Lanka.

The appalling social conditions faced by the masses are a direct result of the brutal measures imposed by former President Gotabhaya Rajapakse’s government and the current Wickremesinghe regime to make working people pay for Sri Lanka’s unprecedented economic crisis.

On September 12, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Program reported that Sri Lankan children are acutely vulnerable to the deepening social crisis. It found that an estimated 6.3 million people were facing “moderate to severe acute food insecurity” and that their situation would worsen if adequate “lifesaving assistance” and livelihood support were not provided.

The report warned that this would deteriorate further from October 2022 to February 2023 due to poor harvests of staples such as paddy rice and the ongoing economic crisis.

“After months of this crippling economic crisis, families are running out of options – they are exhausted. More than 60 percent of families are eating less and eating cheaper, less nutritious foods,” it said.

But instead of providing real assistance, the financially strapped Sri Lankan governments have scaled back feeding programs such as school meals and fortified foods for mothers and malnourished children.

* On August 26, UNICEF South Asia Regional Director George Laryea-Adjei said at a news conference in Colombo that rising costs of living and food prices have forced many families to drastically cut their daily diet. In September 2021, year-on-year inflation was 5.6 percent. Last month it climbed to 64.3 percent, food inflation was 93.7 percent.

According to a recent UNICEF report, 5.7 million people, including 2.3 million children, are in urgent need of food aid. It also showed that 15.7 percent of children under the age of 5 suffer from malnutrition. Adjei warned that children “could be at risk of severe stunting and death” because their families are starving and that malnutrition in Sri Lanka is now the second worst in South Asia and the 10th worst in the world.

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According to the Sri Lankan Ministry of Census and Statistics, there are currently over 10,000 children in institutions mainly due to family poverty. The UNICEF report warned that “if the crisis worsens and more families place their children in institutional care as they cannot afford to feed or educate them, their conditions will be adversely affected”.

UNICEF noted that “negative coping mechanisms” such as the “institutionalization of children, absenteeism/dropping out of school, restricted food intake” “have been exacerbated by the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and the current socioeconomic and political crisis.”

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