News

Covid-19 impact in Sri Lanka: 30% of families cut down on food

By Sarah Hannan

30% of families in Sri Lanka have already reduced their daily food consumption, with a similar number having lost all their income. This was revealed when the effects of Covid-19 and its impacts on the country’s food security were highlighted by UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) during a recent survey that was carried out in Sri Lanka.

Already, half a billion people in South Asia are categorised as facing food insecurity, and UNICEF, based on its findings, predicts that in a worst-case scenario, the number of South Asian children living in poverty could grow to more than 360 million within six months.

But the numbers are set to rise sharply, leading to substantial increases in rates of malnutrition unless mitigating steps are taken.

This in itself will probably set the UN from achieving its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) way off course.

“None of us were prepared to face this situation; even the developed countries struggled to address the socioeconomic impact that Covid-19 presented. The Government had to look at immediate solutions, but the long-term impact is yet to be assessed. We made provisions to arrange the continuity of essential supplies to all areas of the country. However, there sure would have been oversights,” Government Spokesperson Keheliya Rambukwella told The Sunday Morning when contacted for comment on the findings.

With the President appointing a Task Force to assess the impacts that Covid-19 had presented, Rambukwella noted that the designated team deliberated on the most pressing issues that needed immediate attention. The Government could only issue the Rs. 5,000 allowance in two months as it did not have budgetary allocations to continue the payments for another month, he added.

However, he assured that continuous discussions are carried out to ensure that all grievances are looked into. He added that with the country now returning to normalcy, the food security issue will be closely looked into and the health and well-being of the country’s citizens are always the foremost concern of the Government.

Some South Asian countries have responded by expanding the existing social security schemes or introducing new emergency programmes. However, the current level of fiscal responses has been inadequate, and some countries have offered almost nothing.

As a result, national economies risk suffering deep recessions while families will suffer, with millions of children bearing the brunt, the report indicated.

UNICEF views that an emergency Universal Child Benefit (UCB) would be an important component of ensuring that the vast majority of households across South Asia can access a minimum level of income support.

Analysis across five countries in South Asia indicates that a UCB costing 2% of GDP over six months would provide the recipient population with an average of between 18-46% of their pre-Covid expenditures, with particularly high benefits for the poorest members of society.

UNICEF has called the Government’s immediate attention to:

  • Continue (or resume) life-saving vaccination interventions to respond to outbreaks of measles, cholera, and other diseases, and to address conditions such as severe wasting.
  • Ensure the provision of essential services, including primary health care and nutrition, for all children, pregnant and nursing mothers.
  • Put in place a package of universal income transfers to help children and other vulnerable groups, including older people and persons with disabilities. An emergency Universal Child Benefit (UCB) should be an important component of this package.
  • Provide community health and social services staff with the personal protection equipment they need to feel and be safe while they carry out their duties; also to properly understand and address the barriers that prevent communities accessing essential services.
  • Ensure access to handwashing facilities with soap and water in homes, schools, and health care facilities, especially in high- density settings such as urban slums and refugee camps.
  • Re-open schools as soon as possible while ensuring the safety of students and staff through provision of adequate handwashing and toilet facilities and proper physical spacing in classrooms and other school venues.
  • Scale up the provision of remote learning/home learning options, including no-tech and low-tech solutions with a special focus on marginalised children, while ensuring that existing national funding for education is not diverted.
  • Protect children against violence by keeping phone helplines open and referral networks functioning. Designate social workers as essential staff to allow them to address cases of child abuse, domestic violence and psychosocial support.

Furthermore, from 2021 UNICEF calls governments to commit to strategies that transition from the response to COVID-19 towards sustainable climate-resilient development interventions that will safeguard the region’s most vulnerable child.

  • Ensuring the short-term COVID-19 response leads to the development of a stronger long-term health system that provides universal, accessible, affordable, quality primary healthcare for all.
  • Continuation of positive child protection practices developed during the COVID-19 response, including promoting alternatives to detention and diversion, the closure of institutional care and reduction of alternative care.
  • Additional investment in education systems (including improved reach of distance learning modalities) that comprise universal access to Early Childhood Development; quality basic education; and secondary education that allows adolescents to develop the necessary skills for active citizenship and employability.
  • Creation of opportunities for the participation of young people (particularly adolescent girls) that foster their capacities for innovation and social entrepreneurship.
  • Birth registration for every child as the basis for the provision of a full range of vital health and other services.
  • Alignment of long-term economic recovery plans with climate goals and targets enshrined in the Paris Agreement to promote sustainable development approaches with a focus on increasing the resilience of the most vulnerable groups.
  • Fostering a broad partnership embracing public and private sectors, corporations, religious leaders and community-based organizations of women and young people committed to building a better future for children.
  • Additional investment in education systems (including improved reach of distance learning modalities) that comprise universal access to Early Childhood Development; quality basic education; and secondary education that allows adolescents to develop the necessary skills for active citizenship and employability.
  • Creation of opportunities for the participation of young people (particularly adolescent girls) that foster their capacities for innovation and social entrepreneurship.
  • Birth registration for every child as the basis for the provision of a full range of vital health and other services.
  • Alignment of long-term economic recovery plans with climate goals and targets enshrined in the Paris Agreement to promote sustainable development approaches with a focus on increasing the resilience of the most vulnerable groups.
  • Fostering a broad partnership embracing public and private sectors, corporations, religious leaders and community-based organizations of women and young people committed to building a better future for children.