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HomeNewsFamilies reduce food given to children: Hunger crisis in Sri Lanka deepens

Families reduce food given to children: Hunger crisis in Sri Lanka deepens

The economic crisis in Sri Lanka has escalated into a severe hunger crisis, with half of families in the country forced to reduce the amount of food they provide for their children, according to a survey by Save the Children. The government and international community must take immediate action to prevent Sri Lanka’s children from becoming a lost generation, the child rights organisation has warned.

The economic downturn has resulted in food, medicine and fuel shortages, and a lack of stable employment, leaving families struggling to cope. Since the government defaulted on its debt nearly a year ago, the country has experienced a soaring inflation rate, with year-on-year inflation at over 50%, making it the seventh highest nominal food inflation rate in the world.

Save the Children’s survey of 2,308 households across nine districts in Sri Lanka showed that average household expenditure increased by 18% between June and December 2020 while 23% of households were unable to meet most or all of their basic needs during that period. 

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Over the past six months, more families have had to resort to desperate measures to survive, with a 24% increase in households borrowing money, a 24% increase in households purchasing food on credit, and a 28% increase in households selling household items for cash.

Female-headed households are particularly vulnerable, with women increasingly at risk of trafficking or exploitation, working overtime and migrating for work. This puts children at risk as they are left alone, according to the child rights organisation.

According to the survey, 27% of households are skipping meals to feed their children, while nine out of ten households cannot guarantee nutritious food for their children. The situation is especially challenging for families that struggle to provide a well-balanced meal for all three of their children.

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Even simple nutritional foods like eggs and yoghurt have become too expensive for them to afford, limiting the items they are able to feed their children. On most days, they are forced to prioritise their toddler’s nutrition, leaving their older children without adequate food.

The survey also found that 70% of households lost all or most of their sources of income between June and December 2020. Among these, over half of households (54%) now source their main household income from jobs that are seasonal and irregular, making it difficult for children to know where their next meal is coming from.

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Save the Children has called for a rapid build-up of social protection systems with support from the international community to prevent a full-blown hunger crisis in Sri Lanka. All humanitarian interventions must take into account the patriarchal gender dynamics of communities to best meet needs, the organisation added.

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