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Quarter of Sri Lanka's grapples with food shortage after palace coup

An abrupt mandatory shift to organic farming shrank local harvests, compounding existing economic problems.

A porter carries a sack of imported onions at a market in Colombo, Sri Lanka, July 29, 2022
Un cargador lleva un saco de cebollas importadas en un mercado de Colombo | Voice of America

August 5, 2022 3:42pm

Updated: August 5, 2022 6:37pm

The economic meltdown that drove the ouster of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has continued to persist, leading to mass food insecurity amid soaring fuel and fertilizer prices.

About a quarter of Sri Lanka’s 22 million residents do not have access to adequate food, according to the World Food Program.

“Around 6.3 million people in Sri Lanka are food insecure. That means they are not able to access nutritious diet on a regular basis, out of which around 5.3 million people are either reducing meals or skipping meals,” Abdur Rahim Siddiqui, WFP’s Sri Lanka country director, told Voice of America.

Difficulties importing food and fuel into Sri Lanka due to record low foreign exchange reserves were compounded when the government ordered an abrupt switch to organic farming last year, which shrank local harvests, reports VOA.

Food inflation reportedly hit 90% last month, with the prices for staples like rice and vegetables at double what they were the year before.

Long dominating Sri Lankan politics, the Rajapaksa family mismanaged the economy through pet projects like expanding the military in peacetime and signing up for major Chinese-funded infrastructure projects it could not afford.

The Rajapaksas were ousted one by one this year as the economy spiraled out of control, culminating in Gotabaya being forcibly ejected from his official residence by a rowdy mob numbering in the thousands on July 9.

In addition to the food crisis, a fuel shortage has hit many parts of Sri Lankan society – from public transportation to the ability to cook what little food families can get their hands on.

The WFP launched an emergency food program aimed at reaching over 3 million of the most vulnerable groups in Sri Lanka, such as pregnant and breastfeeding women and schoolchildren.

The country is negotiating with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout, but observers say a final agreement is months out.

“We cannot import food because we don’t have the dollars and internally there is a short supply,” said Jehan Perera, executive director at the National Peace Council in Colombo.

“Crops in one part of the country cannot be sent to another due to diesel and petrol shortages. Things will only get worse for a while,” he added.