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Nearly a quarter of Sri Lanka grapples with food shortages

There are always long lines at the dozens of community kitchens set up in Sri Lanka by nonprofits and charities in recent months.

"Even today, after serving more than 300 meals, we had to turn some people back, for millions of people," he told VOA.

"People are desperate. For example, one family pushes a mother in a wheelchair five kilometers. Some survive on one meal," he said.

Initiatives of this kind have alleviated the suffering of many as Sri Lanka grapples with a devastating economic meltdown. Akash said their kitchen serves about 1,800 people every day.

However, these efforts have resulted in massive food shortages in a country where more than one-fourth of his 22 million people do not have access to enough food, according to the World Food Programme. It can only meet a fraction of your needs.

“In Sri Lanka, about 6.3 million people are food insecure, meaning they do not have access to nutritious food on a regular basis, and about 5.3 million of them eat less or They are skipping meals,” Abdur Rahim Siddiqui, WFP Country Director for Sri Lanka, said in an interview with VOA.

Record-low foreign exchange reserves have made it difficult to import food and fuel in a country that relied on the transportation of many essential commodities from abroad. The problem was exacerbated by the sudden government-ordered switch to organic farming last year, which reduced local yields and killed about half of last year's rice crop. The ban on chemical fertilizers has since been lifted, but shortages have left food in short supply.

Prices soared as a result, with food inflation reaching 90% last month. The prices of staple foods such as rice and vegetables have doubled. Cooking gas cylinders are expensive and in short supply, making it difficult for many to keep their kitchen fires burning.

Preparing large amounts of rice and curry in a communal kitchen with hundreds of people is also a big challenge. People have to cook with firewood, which is difficult to stock up on in Colombo.

"When we realized that many people couldn't use the dry food we were distributing, we started offering cooked meals," he said Akash. .

There are other hurdles. A severe fuel shortage has severely restricted public transportation, making it difficult for volunteers to come.

The urban poor and rural families, who have long faced malnutrition, are being hit hardest.

Siddiqui said her 70% of Sri Lankan children were stunted even before the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis erupted.

"That meant they were under-height for their age and about 15% was wasted, meaning they were too skinny for their height. We understand that the nutritional situation will deteriorate further in the next few days," he said.

exacerbated by the loss of income received in the transport and tourism sectors.

"Colombo, for example, used to have many tricycles in the past, but now they are few in number because they could not get fuel or were given very limited supplies. It's going down," said Executive Director Jehan Perera. told VOA at the National Peace Council in Colombo.

"Now these people have no income and are facing these high prices," he said.

Government funding for programs such as providing free meals to school children has been cut.

WFP has launched an emergency program aimed at reaching more than three million of her most vulnerable members of the population, including pregnant and breastfeeding women and school children. .

Food prices are likely to skyrocket further in the coming months.

Farmers again face fertilizer and fuel shortages. This is because government funds are insufficient to finance their purchases. This has raised fears that agricultural production will plummet for his second year in a row.

"If all these items are not available immediately, from October he is very worried that the next season, which starts in November, will be affected," said Siddiqui. rice field.

"So it's imperative to have all the inputs available," he said.

However, it is unlikely that fertilizer and fuel shortages will be resolved anytime soon.

The country is negotiating with the International Monetary Fund for bailouts and discussions will resume this month on his four-year program that could provide up to $3 billion, President Ranil Wickremesinghe said this week. spoke in parliament.

That said, a final agreement could still be several months away. Wickremesinghe warned last month that the country will have trouble in 2023 as well.

Observers have called the situation "catastrophic" for the poor.

"We can't import food because we don't have dollars and we're short on supplies internally," Perera said.

"Diesel and petrol shortages prevent us from sending crops from one part of the country to another. Things are going to get worse for a while," he said.