Sri Lanka’s estate sector communities are found to be suffering from the highest level of acute food insecurity, according to a latest UNICEF report.
These communities are followed by households highly dependent on social protection schemes such as Samurdhi or disability benefits, says the report.
The report has been compiled by the FAO/WFP Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission (CFSAM) to Sri Lanka in May 2023.
Despite the apparent economic stability and improved food security in the country, a significantly high percentage of households (62 per cent) are adopting livelihood-based coping strategies (i.e. withdrawing savings, borrowing money, purchasing food on credit) to access food compared to 48 percent in May 2022.
The report highlights that 26 percent of households are employing emergency or crisis-level livelihood coping strategies, which include “selling productive assets (e.g., farming equipment), reducing essential health/education expenses, withdrawing children completely from school, and selling land”.
Situation Overview & Humanitarian Needs
During 2022, Sri Lanka’s economy contracted by 7.8 per cent1 resulting in many employment and livelihood losses. Simultaneously, the country was suffering from a political crisis with unstable governance and widespread civil unrest.
Combined with the rapidly increasing inflation and cost of living, the economic and political crises contribute to double the national poverty (25 per cent) and triple urban poverty (15 per cent).
After Sri Lanka secured adequate debt relief assurances from the official creditors on 20 March 2023, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Board approved US$ 3 billion for 48 months under the Extended Fund Facility programme.
With the IMF bailout, the country is currently seeing economic stability.
However, Sri Lanka’s economy is forecasted to further contract in 2023 (4.3 percent according to World Bank and 3.1 percent according to IMF estimates) before it begins a slow and long recovery process.
With the strengthening of El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), Sri Lanka is experiencing delayed Southwest monsoon and less rainfall affecting 139,149 people in 7 districts with drought and water scarcity, according to the report.
The National Disaster Relief Services Centre (NDRSC) under the Ministry of Disaster Management had begun distributing water through bowsers to 57,718 people (21,122 families) in the severely affected districts.
Drought conditions may negatively affect the upcoming “Yala” agriculture season and already 45,000 acres of paddy fields in the Hambantota district are at high risk of being destroyed due to severe drought.
With the worsening drought conditions affecting the yala harvest, rice wholesale and retail prices are expected to increase, exacerbating the existing food insecurities in the country.
In addition, many forest fires had been reported across the country due to the prevailing dry weather conditions, including in the water catchment-protected areas.
After a year of economic hardship in Sri Lanka, 2023 showed some stabilization of the economy with the IMF debt restructuring agreement on 20 March 2023.
However, many vulnerable families continue to face food insecurity and nutrition challenges loss of livelihoods, and rising protection concerns as they continue to depend on negative coping mechanisms.
As of May 2023, 3.9 million people were moderately food insecure with over 10,000 households facing severe food insecurity.
Over 2.9 M children need access to lifesaving nutrition
Over 2.9 million children need humanitarian assistance to access lifesaving nutrition, health, education, water & sanitation, protection, and social protection services.
UNICEF reached over 647,900 people, including 360,941 children with humanitarian assistance in the first half of 2023.
Through UNICEF interventions, over 143,000 women and children have access to primary health care facilities, 120,000 people have access to safe drinking water, 30,733 children in rural and estate areas participated in on learning recovery programmes, and 53280 children received educational materials.
UNICEF’s humanitarian cash transfers reached 70,571 households ensuring nutrition food access to mothers with young children in the most vulnerable districts, adds the report.