Sri Lanka’s political and economic turmoil leaves millions facing a food crisis


Aid agencies are warning that the health and wellbeing of six million Sri Lankans could be at risk as the country faces extraordinary political upheaval and a punishing economic collapse.

Ousted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country on Wednesday, the day he was set to step down under intense public pressure to quit over his handling of the country’s finances.

Several factors have led to Sri Lanka’s foreign exchange reserves drying up, leaving the government unable to pay for vital imports of food, cooking gas, fuel and medicine – all of which are in short supply.

Observers warn that if the situation does not improve soon, a third of the country’s estimated 22 million people could plunge further into food insecurity as the country faces its worst financial crisis since independence in 1948.

The World Food Program (WFP) has warned that some 62,000 Sri Lankans are in such dire straits they need urgent help.

Food insecurity is defined by the United Nations as the “lack [of] regular access to enough safe, nutritious food for normal growth and development and an active, healthy life.” Severe insecurity means a person has “out of food“and can go a day or more without eating anything.

WATCH | Sri Lanka’s embattled president leaves the country amid economic meltdown:

Sri Lanka declares state of emergency as president flees the country

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has fled the country as protesters stormed the prime minister’s residence demanding his resignation due to an economic crisis. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was named interim president, further angering Sri Lankans over food, fuel and power shortages.

Hunger in Sri Lanka in numbers

Food inflation rose 80% in June, compared to a year earlier, according to Central Bank of Sri Lankaas the economy collapsed and food and fuel supplies continued to dwindle.

The the UN said more than 60% of Sri Lankans were already choosing to limit meals to stretch their food budget. In a disastrous example of how far some vulnerable people have to walk to eat, Britain Sky News reported that some families walked nearly 10 kilometers to get a free meal from a community kitchen in Colombo.

In an appeal to donors, the charity save the children It was estimated last week that 12% of the country’s poorest households are taking “crisis level” measures to survive food shortages and economic collapse. These measures include borrowing money, taking children out of school or selling property, the organization said, citing its own survey of more than 2,300 families.

According to the WFP, pregnant or breastfeeding women and children are of great concern. The agency said a national school meals program which “provides nutritious meals to one in four schoolchildren” has been disrupted and a nutritional support program for nursing mothers and young children “has been cut”.

“Coupled with income losses, this could lead to higher rates of malnutrition among women and their children,” the WFP said.

People walk through a vegetable market with heaps of fruits in vegetables on the ground and on tables.
The World Food Program said more than 60% of households in Sri Lanka “regularly eat less preferred and less nutritious foods, reducing portion sizes and cutting meals to cope”. (Arun Sankar/AFP/Getty Images)

National food production falls

National food production has also been hit by the Rajapaksa government’s decision in April 2021 to ban the import of chemical fertilizers and agrochemicals, including herbicides and pesticides, in an apparent shift towards organic farming. . But the move was brutal, with no plans to import organic fertilizers and no increase in national production.

By the time the ban was partially reversed in November, farmers reported a 40-50 percent loss in paddy rice harvests, said UN Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka Hanaa Singer-Hamdy. DailyMirror last month. Fruit, vegetable and tea crops also suffered.

“Low-income households are the hardest hit and [are] engage in negative coping strategies,” she said.

The cost of chemical fertilizers has also risen dramatically since then, amid a global shortage, leaving farmers on the hook.

Impact of the war in Ukraine

Russia has been accused of militarizing food exports in its war against Ukraine to middle- and low-income countries, and Sri Lanka appears to be one of the victims.

Ukraine is one of the main grain exporters to low-income countries; it is the fifth largest source of imported food products in Sri Lanka, according to the world Bank.

The Economic Complexity Observatory, an open-source data visualization website, shows that cereals accounted for more than a third of Sri Lanka’s total imports from Ukraine; other imports included vegetables, pulses, cooking oils and various spice seeds.

A man uses machinery to collect grain inside a barn.
A farmer collects the harvest from his field near the front line in Dnipropetrovsk region, Ukraine, on July 4. An estimated 22 million tons of grain are stuck in Ukraine with the Russian naval blockade of Ukrainian Black Sea ports, and the pressure is mounting as the new harvest begins. The country typically ships around 40% of its grain to Asia. (Efrem Lukatsky/Associated Press)

Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky blamed for the crisis in Sri Lanka over Russia, in a video address to the Asian Leadership Conference in Seoul, saying it should serve as a warning about the global implications of Russia’s invasion and blockade of Ukrainian shipments of cereals and food.

“The shocking rise in food and fuel prices has caused a social explosion. No one knows now how it will end. However, you all know that the same explosions are possible in other countries affected by food and energy crises “, said Zelensky during the conference.

Is there relief in sight?

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, appointed interim president by Rajapaksa before he fled, informed parliament of the government’s intention to host a international donor conference which will include major Asian donors such as India, China and Japan. According to Economic periodthat won’t happen until Sri Lanka strikes a bailout deal with the International Monetary Fund, although the Central Bank governor warned the current political instability could further delay the talks.

The Sri Lankan parliament is preparing to elect a new president on July 20.

Last month, the UN appealed for US$47 million in humanitarian aid funding, to help 1.7 million Sri Lankans in need through September.

in a statement to CBC News last week, Global Affairs Canada said the federal government provided initial humanitarian assistance of $50,000 in May through the International Federation of Red Cross and Crescent Societies. Red.

On the coast8:28Sri Lankan immigrant puts unrest in context

Raj Retnanandan, a Calgarian who immigrated from Sri Lanka in 1981, looks at the economic and political turmoil in Sri Lanka and suggests a path to stability, prosperity and confidence in his former country.

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