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Sri Lanka is experiencing its worst economic crisis since it gained independence in 1948. It comes on the heels of successive waves of COVID-19 threatening to undo years of development progress, severely undermining the country’s ability to achieve the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

An estimated 4.9 million people – 22 percent of the population – are currently food-insecure and require humanitarian assistance.

Reduced domestic agricultural production, scarcity of foreign exchange reserves and depreciation of the local currency have caused food shortages and a spike in the cost of living, which is limiting people’s access to healthy and affordable meals.

The economic crisis will push families into hunger and poverty – some for the first time – adding to the half a million people who the World Bank estimates have fallen below the poverty line because of the pandemic.

The latest WFP assessment reveals that 86 percent of families are buying cheaper, less nutritious food, eating less and in some cases skipping meals altogether.

Before the economic crisis and the pandemic, malnutrition rates across Sri Lanka were already high. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Sri Lankan women and children suffered from far higher rates of malnutrition than most other middle-income countries: 17 percent of children aged under 5 were too short because of stunting; and 15 percent were too thin for their height (wasted). The current economic crisis will likely aggravate this further.

In addition, weather extremes such as droughts, floods and landslides are heightening food and nutrition insecurity.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has been working with the Government of Sri Lanka since 1968 to address malnutrition, support families to access food and improve the productivity and incomes of smallholder farmers.

WFP supports school-aged children in food insecure areas to access to food year-round, provides children aged under 5, adolescent girls and women of reproductive age with nutritious food and helps communities prepare for and respond to climate shocks.

Gender empowerment is integrated into all of WFP’s activities, to promote equality and strengthen food and nutrition security for women and girls.

WFP is scaling up its operations to support 3 million people between June and December 2022 whose food security, nutrition and livelihoods are at risk.

What the World Food Programme is doing in Sri Lanka

Nutrition

WFP supports the national health system in the prevention and management of moderate acute malnutrition. Projects include strengthening national capacities to improve the availability, accessibility and consumption of fortified foods; strengthening programmatic efforts through research on food security and nutrition; and developing a social behaviour change communication strategy to improve dietary practices. The Scaling Up Nutrition Business Network was launched in 2019 to increase private sector engagement in nutrition-related solutions.

School feeding

WFP has been supporting the National School Meal Programme since 2003. The programme was introduced by the Government in 1931 as an essential safety net to support children’s access to education, health and nutrition. WFP provides technical and capacity-building assistance to ensure that the meals address nutrient deficiencies among schoolchildren. The programme is augmented through the Home-Grown School Feeding project, which promotes the use of locally grown food in school meals.

Resilience building and livelihood support

WFP, in partnership with the Government of Sri Lanka, works to strengthen food systems and ensure access and availability of food all year round. WFP’s flagship project R5 helps strengthen resilience among smallholder farmers, assisting them in preparing for recurring climate-induced shocks through better access to climate forecasts and resources. Activities include helping farmers diversify their sources of income; improving access to markets; and climate-proofing community assets.

Emergency preparedness and response

WFP works with the Government to develop shock-responsive safety-net programmes, to better prepare for and respond to shocks, in order to safeguard communities and development gains. WFP helps improve national capacities to adapt to and mitigate the adverse effects of climate change, by supporting information management and enabling coordination among partners for effective emergency planning, to ensure people have access to food all year round, even in times of crisis.

Social protection

WFP works with the Department of Samurdhi, which conducts the largest national safety net programme, to protect families in emergencies, while safeguarding gains on the road to zero hunger. WFP helps strengthen the shock-responsive capacities of the programme and works to enhance existing national safety nets. The latter includes supporting the development of smart cards for Samurdhi beneficiaries, for cash transfers during emergencies.

Partners and donors

Achieving Zero Hunger is the work of many. Our work in Sri Lanka is made possible by the support and collaboration of our partners and donors, including:

Contacts

Office

Colombo Country Office 2, Jawatte Avenue, Colombo 5, Sri Lanka
Colombo
Sri Lanka

Phone
+94 11 2586244
Fax
+94 11 2502468
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