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Food Insecurity: The Current Crisis

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Sri Lanka is facing hardships immensely. People are struggling to fulfill their basic needs and they have sacrificed their mid-term goals and long-term goals. Food security is one such sector that is gravely affected due to the current economic crisis. Food security, as defined by the United Nations Committee on World Food Security, means that “all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life”. No need to say that Sri Lanka has no food security and this is detrimental to the lives of the people. According to the World Food Program, 6.3 million people, or over 30 percent of Sri Lanka’s population, are “food insecure” and require humanitarian assistance. Of these, around 5.3 million people are either reducing meals or skipping meals, and at least 65,600 people are severely food insecure. According to a study by Save the Children in June 2022, 59% of families reported not being able to meet all their food needs fully. In addition, two in three respondents noted that their households had to rely on less preferred or less expensive foods at least once a week before the survey. The report stated: “Over half of all children had to eat less preferred food and children had to reduce their quantity of food intake. About one in ten children had reduced their frequency of food intake (twice or less).”The recent situation in the country is a predicament of various factors including, economic mismanagement, the banning of chemical fertilizers in April 2021, Covid -19 pandemic, the Ukraine war as well as the debt crisis. Apart from the factors which lead to Sri Lanka’s some other matters such as environmental stresses and lack of policy responses to global change also affects food insecurity. Irrespective of government measures Sri Lanka is still batting with day-to-day needs. Therefore, it is high time that government should cater to address the needs of the public.

According to Food and Agriculture Organization Policy brief, there are different dimensions of food security. One such is food availability, which is the availability of sufficient quantities of food of appropriate quality, supplied through domestic production or imports (including food aid). The next is food access which is the access by individuals to adequate resources (entitlements) for acquiring appropriate foods for a nutritious diet. Entitlements are defined as the set of all commodity bundles over which a person can establish command given the legal, political, economic, and social arrangements of the community in which they live (including traditional rights such as access to common resources). When it comes to utilization, utilization of food through adequate diet, clean water, sanitation, and health care to reach a state of nutritional well-being where all physiological needs are met. This brings out the importance of non-food inputs in food security. The third dimension is stability, which is the ability to be food secure, a population, household, or individual must have access to adequate food at all times. They should not risk losing access to food as a consequence of sudden shocks (e.g., an economic or climatic crisis) or cyclical events (e.g, seasonal food insecurity). The concept of stability can therefore refer to both the availability and access dimensions of food security. Applying this to the Sri Lankan context, it is clear that these dimensions are not fulfilled well.

As a result of hardships, people took over to the streets and demanded their rights by way of Aragalaya, they were asking to reduce prices, penalize the corrupt, and give a corrupt-free country. The situation escalated and people-appointed leaders stepped down. Irrespective of the new leadership, the government still is struggling to provide for the needs of the people. At present, “in the face of Sri Lanka’s economic crisis, food insecurity remains at concerning levels. 36 percent of households are food-insecure, according to World Food Program’s (WFP’s) latest Household Food Security Survey (October 2022). Furthermore, in urban areas of Colombo, food inflation (year-on-year) was at 73.7 percent in November, according to the latest Colombo Consumer Price Index (October 2022). While food availability has widely improved from the previous month, coinciding with the Yala harvest, markets continue to report concerns around price volatility, according to WFP’s October Market Functionality Index. High and unstable prices are further impacting food accessibility for households”.

Ministry of Agriculture has implemented the concept of “Ekwa Wawamu, Rata Dinamu”. Where the community must take necessary actions to grow essential crops in the backyard and condominium property owners on their balconies. Moreover, Sri Lanka President’s office established a Food Security Program Unit to address increasing poverty and hunger information. Accordingly, Samurdhi recipient families with more than 05 members, families with disabled and people with chronic illnesses, poverty-stricken families with children below 05 years, families without a husband or wife, families with pregnant and lactating mothers, and poverty-stricken families who have not even received primary education who are facing severe food insecurity have been identified as criteria for assisting with the World Food Program. In addition, programs are conducted around the country to educate the public, such are, the National Program for Food Security and Nutrition which was held on the 20th at Mampe Sanasa Hall and Honnantara North, Sri Vijayanandanarama Temple under the leadership of Dr. Suren Batagoda, Presidential Adviser on the National Program for Food Security and Nutrition, under the concept, “All families in a village should be strong at the family level”, rural economic revitalization committees have been established covering every village to look into the problems faced by each family and provide solutions.

When looking at international assistance, since the start of emergency operations in mid-August 2022, WFP has reached 576,944 people with cash assistance (479,908) and in-kind assistance (97,036). This is a result of WFP’s response scale-up aimed at reaching 1.4 million people through unconditional food assistance (cash or in-kind). Further, WFP distributed rice to 3,517 schools in November and has reached 479,087 children to date. WFP has further planned to support 1 million children with school meals through the Government’s national school meals program. WFP is coordinating with the Government and donors to provide raw materials (maize and soybean) to the Government’s Thriposha facility which is targeting approximately 1 million pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and young children with nutritious food support.

Irrespective of all these measures, people are still struggling to survive. It is praiseworthy that the government as well as international actors are aiding the public. Yet, the government of Sri Lanka as the custodian of the public has more duties to do in addition to the good things they are doing at the moment. Firstly, it is important to understand hunger as a threat. Universal Declaration on the Eradication of Hunger and Malnutrition mentions that every man, woman, and child has the inalienable right to be free from hunger and malnutrition and to develop fully and maintain their physical and mental faculties. Therefore, the government should increase resource allocation to improve food security, concessions should be provided to low-income families. Women, children, and lactating mothers should be given extra prominence, vocational training should be taught to strengthen the capacity of individuals, this will uplift their social standards since they will be employed.