As Sri Lankan opposition members of parliament raked up the issue of an imminent child malnutrition crisis, a minister raised questions about a UNICEF report that ranked the island nation sixth in a global child malnutrition index.
Participating in a debate on child malnutrition spinning out of Sri Lanka’s economic crisis, Sri Lankan ruling coalition politician and minister of plantation and industries, Ramesh Pathirana today questioned the UNICEF’s findings. He said that the data was outdated.
The UNICEF report highlighted that over 5.7 million Sri Lankans, including 2.3 million children, were in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. It said that Sri Lanka figured among the top ten countries with the highest number of malnourished children and warned that the numbers could rise further.
UNICEF’s report said that 15.1 per cent of the country’s children under five years of age were affected, adding for effect that “Sri Lanka has made no progress towards achieving the target for wasting.”
“Children are disproportionately affected by the rapidly unfolding economic crisis in Sri Lanka,” the UNICEF’s report said. “Rising food and fuel prices, frequent power cuts, shortages of life-saving medicine, are impacting the poorest and most marginalized.”
But Pathirana chose to tear into the UNICEF report as a sure way to deny the problem. “The data taken from countries relate to different years,” he said. He pointed out that India’s data was collected in 2017, choosing not to mention that Sri Lanka could not provide data for 2017 and that the island nation shared data from 2016. “There is a significant difference in the results and we can’t take this as a final report,” he said.
“We can’t take this as a complete report,” he said, adding that the report has not indicated the situations in other countries and different ages.
In its report, UNICEF had ranked Sri Lanka six among malnourished countries in the face of an economic collapse and runaway food inflation and shortages. The report had indicated a looming protein deficit as prices of food and protein went through the roof. Even fish was a luxury in the island nation as fishers did not have fuel to take their boats out to sea.
Of the 12 global nutritional targets the report set out to assess countries against, Sri Lanka fared well on childhood obesity and exclusive breastfeeding. But the poor show on childhood wasting and anaemia were cause for concern, as also stunting and low birth weight.
The minister insisted that Sri Lanka was moving away from malnutrition and said that the Sri Lanka Medical Research Institute data would provide a clearer picture.
Image: Josh Estey / WFP