The UN and non-governmental agencies launched a US$ 47.2 million humanitarian needs and priorities plan “to provide life-saving assistance to 1.7 million people worst-hit by the economic crisis over a four-month period.
Within weeks of Sri Lankan citizens watching their leaders pose before cameras, accepting a packet of donated foodstuff from a docked ship at the Colombo harbour, international aid agencies have appealed for donations.
The sight of politicians from the ruling dispensation receiving the relief packets was distressing, many Colombo residents said.
Aid agencies, on the other hand, were more dispassionate.
“The current crisis is stretching families to their limits,” said Christian Skoog, UNICEF Representative in Sri Lanka.
“Children are going to bed distressed and on empty stomachs. Many children are not regularly attending school, and hospitals are fast running out of medicines, including for children and pregnant women. If we do not act now, it is the most vulnerable boys and girls who will pay the highest price for a crisis not of their making.”
UN Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka Hanaa Singer-Hamdy said in a statement. “Multiple factors are impacting Sri Lanka’s food security situation; if we don’t act now, many families will be unable to meet their basic food needs.”
The UN official said that there was an “urgent need to prevent a humanitarian crisis later in the year, while bridging efforts towards development and socio-economic interventions.”
Need international support now
The Red Cross has warned that the crisis is spiralling into a humanitarian emergency as millions of people face acute shortages of food, fuel, cooking gas and medicine and, in a simultaneously timed warning, UNICEF said that the debilitating crisis in Sri Lanka has left nearly half of the children in the country in need of some form of humanitarian assistance.
“The situation has taken a devastating turn for people already struggling to put food on the table during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Sri Lanka Red Cross Secretary General, Mahesh Gunasekara. “It’s even worse for single parent households, those without steady work and those already suffering a loss of income.”
Responding to the unfolding emergency, the Red Cross has launched an Emergency Appeal for US$ 28 million to provide immediate critical relief and for longer recovery efforts for an estimated 500,000 people.
“We need international support now to help hundreds of thousands of people pull their lives back together,” Gunasekra says, adding, “It’s going to be a long, tough road for people to rebuild and get their lives back on track.”
Children disproportionately impacted
The UN and non-governmental agencies too launched a US$ 47.2 million Humanitarian Needs and Priorities (HNP) Plan “to provide life-saving assistance to 1.7 million people worst-hit by the economic crisis over a four-month period, from June to September,” the agency said.
To scale up response to the rising needs of children in the next seven months, UNICEF is today appealing for US$ 25 million to save lives and bring nutrition, healthcare, safe drinking water, education, and mental health services to 1.7 million vulnerable children in Sri Lanka.
Even before the current crisis, Sri Lanka had the second highest child malnutrition rate in South Asia, and two in five infants were not fed the minimum acceptable diet. With soaring food prices, 70 per cent of households are now reporting reduced food consumption, and the fuel crisis and frequent power cuts are hindering vital services for children, including healthcare and education. Access to safe water for drinking and domestic use is declining, posing an increased risk of water-borne diseases
“The current crisis is disproportionately impacting the most vulnerable boys and girls in Sri Lanka, who were already confronted with the toxic combination of poverty, COVID-19, and repeated climate-related disasters,” said Skoog. “UNICEF is strongly urging donors to support Sri Lanka’s children through its humanitarian appeal. Together, we can ensure the steady gains for children made by Sri Lanka over many years are not permanently reversed.”
The civil unrest and food shortages gripping the country were sparked by an economic crisis that has been developing throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Sharp declines in agriculture production have resulted in rapid price increase for staple food items like rice and vegetable, which directly impact the household economy and food security of the most vulnerable.