UN: Sri Lanka’s “misery” a warning to everyone on “global food crisis”
08 Jul 2022 --- Almost 6.3 million people in Sri Lanka are unsure of where their next meal will come from, according to a food security assessment by the World Food Programme (WFP). With staggering instances of malnutrition, the organization is warning of “grave consequences” where pregnant women are unable to obtain the nutrients they need.
Sri Lanka defaulted on its debt last month, running out of money to access international markets and purchase ever-more expensive food.
It currently faces a hyperinflationary 57.4% inflation rate and increasing food prices have crippled the population’s ability to put sufficient and nutritious meals on the table, rendering two in five households without adequate diets.
“We’re witnessing a tragic series of events that are unfolding in Sri Lanka right now that should be a warning to anyone who thinks that it is up to countries themselves to figure out how to deal with this crisis,” says Achim Steiner, administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP).
The WFP warns that the lack of good nutrition in the country is putting both pregnant mothers and their babies at risk. It is not uncommon that Sri Lankan families only have access to rice and gravy, the organization reveals.
“Pregnant mothers need to eat nutritious meals every day, but the poorest find it harder and harder to afford the basics,” says Anthea Webb, WFP deputy regional director for Asia-Pacific.
By skipping meals, pregnant women are putting themselves and their children’s health at risk in a way that “carries throughout life,” she adds.
In a bid to combat malnutrition fears, the WFP provides US$40 monthly food vouchers to pregnant women in the poorest neighborhoods, alongside antenatal care.
To date, the organization has delivered 88% of the first batch of 2,375 vouchers it has available and targeted three million people to receive emergency food, nutrition and school meals until December.
India has also supplied Sri Lanka with 50 metric tons of milk powder at the end of May, with domestic authorities saying that India has already provided US$3.5 billion in aid.
The warning comes as Unicef sounded the alarm of the price of ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF), projected to soar by 16% in the next six months. Described as an affordable solution for severe malnutrition, its increasing price is set to impact millions of children, particularly in the horn of Africa.
Rice focus, a desperate move
Last June, Sri Lankan farmers were urged to boost their rice production to try to feed the country. Officials warned that severe food shortages could occur this August, although over six million citizens of the island are already in food-insecure circumstances.
In line with Sri Lanka’s officials, the WFP anticipates that the crisis might worsen.
“As prices keep healthy meals out of reach, some 61% of households are regularly using coping strategies to cut down on costs, such as reducing the amount they eat and consuming increasingly less nutritious meals,” reveals the WFP.
“Even more people will turn to these coping strategies as the crisis deepens,” warns the international organization.
Situation spiraling out of control
Food insecurity is spreading like wildfire, creating overwhelming conditions that are much worse than during the Arab Spring.
Countries in the horn of Africa are suffering the worst drought in 40 years, doubling the amount of food-insecure people in Ethiopia and Somalia. Meanwhile, Egyptians are spending a fortune to acquire wheat, needing assistance from the International Monetary Fund, with estimations indicating they will purchase up to US$5.7 billion worth of wheat, in international markets, just this 2022.
In Lebanon, two million locals and one million Syrian and Palestinian refugees are already suffering from food shortages, with bread rationing in place.
Earlier this year, Aaron Brent told NutritionInsight that “thousands of Yemeni families are experiencing unimaginable levels of hunger.”
Meanwhile, in Pakistan, the government is urging people to drink less tea in an effort to try to manage its foreign currency reserves carefully, fearing a default by the end of the year.
“Eat cassava,” said the president of Uganda to its citizens, telling them to avoid bread to prevent, at all costs, the sky-high import prices.
The UN has unveiled that in 2021, before the Ukraine war, around 2.3 billion people were facing moderate or severe difficulty obtaining enough to eat.
“The state of food security and nutrition in the world” paints a grim picture, based on 2021 data, saying the statistics “should dispel any lingering doubts that the world is moving backwards in its efforts to end hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition in all its forms,” reads the report.
The UN warns that 2022 might be historically bad for food security across countries.
“The global price spikes in food, fuel and fertilizers that we are seeing as a result of the crisis in Ukraine threatened to push countries around the world into famine,” says David Beasley, WFP executive director.
“The result will be global destabilization, starvation and mass migration on an unprecedented scale,” he warns.
G7 foreign ministers announced two weeks ago that they would add US$4.5 billion to the US$14 billion already spent to tackle global food insecurity this year. Oxfam described the amount as a “fraction of what is needed.”
By Marc Cervera
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