Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis since independence is spinning off a “serious food crisis,” said World Food Programme Representative and Country Director Abdur Rahim Siddiqui, while describing a toxic mix of spiking prices, shrinking crop yields, the fallout of the war in Ukraine and a lack of state funds to pay for key supplies.
“The economy has collapsed and the country has run out of the money needed to import essentials like fuel, food and fertiliser,” he said, and urged more donor support to WFP and other humanitarian responders.
A recent assessment by WFP and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) showed that 6.3 million people – nearly 30 percent of the population – are food-insecure. It comes as WFP warns of an unprecedented global food crisis.
Sri Lanka is grappling with a record 90 percent food inflation, making even staples such as rice unaffordable for millions of families. The average monthly cost of a nutritious diet has soared 156 percent since 2018.
“What we are seeing on the ground is alarming. We know that millions of Sri Lankans are struggling to have sufficient and nutritious food.”
“Without urgent intervention, things look depressingly bleak for a country which should be able to grow enough to feed its population of 22 million,” said Siddiqui.
The WFP highlighted that multiple factors are shaping Sri Lanka’s food crisis. In its bid to make farming more environmentally sustainable, the government last year banned imported chemical fertilisers. However, the move sharply reduced agricultural output – and while import rules have since been eased, the effects remain.
After two consecutive harvest failures, a third would be “catastrophic,” said Siddiqui.
Sri Lanka is also feeling the aftershocks of the war in Ukraine. Along with disrupting key grain exports and driving up global food and fuel prices, the conflict has battered two of its top tourist markets – Russia and Ukraine itself – reducing the availability of hard currency and, in turn, Sri Lanka’s ability to import, with far-reaching effects.
“Around 200,000 fishermen are out of their livelihoods because this country doesn’t have fuel following import restrictions. We need to provide support to the smallholder farmers.”
“International organisations like WFP have a duty to step in to provide emergency food assistance to the most vulnerable cross-section of the population,” added the WFP official.
WFP kicked off its emergency response operation in mid-June, distributing food vouchers to pregnant women in some of the underserved sections of the capital.
The programme, via its emergency response aims to scale up and reach 3.4 million people with food and nutrition assistance.
The effort will not only be in the form of food but also cash and vouchers, which enables people to buy food and other essentials based on their specific needs.
WFP’s emergency response will also support resuming a key programme: providing food to pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and malnourished young children – bridging a key gap created when Sri Lanka’s government was forced to halt critical assistance programmes due to lack of funds.