The economic crisis with food and fuel scarcity has affected a much larger number of the people in Sri Lanka and the saddest part is that about a million children will go hungry in the coming days. This happens as the Sri Lankan Government cut the funding for free school meals in the island nation as food prices skyrocketed.
Sri Lanka government’s 2022 budget slashed funding for school meals by two-thirds to two billion rupees from six billion rupees, which is only enough to only keep children fed for one school term at most, warned the Save the Children.
CUT BACK ON FOOD
The Save the Children noted that several schools have already stopped serving meals due to the surging cost of basic food items. This left several families struggling to feed their children amidst a backdrop of food price hikes and nationwide rations on basic goods. The prices of food items such as rice and oil rose up to 195% over the past month.
Moreover, the schools that still serve meals have significantly cut back on the size and protein density of the food. Before the crisis, a typical school meal consisted of a balanced diet of meat or eggs, rice, and fruit and vegetables. Now, children are receiving meals consisting mainly of carbohydrates.
Save the Children quoted nine year-old Hansi from Sri Lanka’s Ratnapura District as saying “I really enjoy the meals they give us in the morning. They used to give us a whole egg, which reduced to half, and now we don’t even get that.” Hansi’s mother is also feeling the effects of the school meal cuts at home. She explained that the free meals meant she could save money on the family’s grocery bill, which has increased by 50% since the start of the crisis, the organisation reports.
Almost half of all children in Sri Lanka (42%) were living in poverty before the economic crisis, according to the UN, and a third of children under four were underweight or stunted. Children who are not getting enough nutritious food are at risk of falling behind in their learning or even dropping out of school altogether, Save the Children warned.
SCHOOL MEAL PROGRAMME SHOULD CONTINUE
Save the Children’s National Director in Sri Lanka Julian Chellapah said: “for many children from poor families, a school meal is much more than just a plate of food – it could be the only proper meal they eat in a day, a meal to get them nourished through the school day This crisis has sent the price of goods through the roof, and many struggling families are finding it even harder to put food on the table.”
“If we don’t keep the school meal programme going, we could soon see a situation where we aren’t just talking about hungry children but dangerously ill and mahourished children, which could have severe consequences on school attendance. We could see a situation where more and more children drop out of school. We’re at risk of taking a huge step backwards on child nutrition and education in Sri Lanka, which would be an absolute tragedy,” said Julian Chellapah.
Save the Children is working with the government to provide meals to students in 850 schools across the country by distributing food commodities to complement the school meal programme. However, more than half of the schools have stopped serving meals due to a lack of government funding amidst the economic crisis. The organisation also distribute food to vulnerable families in eight districts of the country, to ensure children and their parents have access to nutritious meals despite the country’s economic crisis.