40,000 kids in SL may suffer from malnutrition in coming months: Minister

As Sri Lanka is still reeling from an unprecedented financial crisis, nearly 40,000 children are likely to suffer from malnutrition in the coming months, Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella told Parliament.

According to a latest survey, 21,000 children are currently suffering from malnutrition and the number is estimated to rise to 40,000 in the coming months, the Minister said.

To address the looming malnutrition crisis, Rambukwella said that the country will begin a foster parent programme from December onwards to feed the malnourished children.

The government is planning to raise funds for the programme as the country is short of capital to provide free food to thousands of children.

Rambukwella further said that 500 million LKR ($1.35 million) has been allocated out of 1 billion LKR ($2.7 million) received from the private sector.

Meanwhile, the island nation will also provide a monthly allowance of 15,000 LKR ($40) to 66,000 poverty-stricken families to ensure food security, Suren Batagoda, the head of the National Food Security Programme, said, adding that it will be given for a period of six months.

A recent Unicef report revealed that Sri Lankan children are disproportionately affected by the ongoing economic crisis and increasing public debt and fiscal deficit have impacted the availability and affordability of essential commodities such as food, fuel, fertilizers, and medicine.

The situation has led to around 5.7 million people, including 2.3 million children, in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

The UN agency also estimated that the country is in an acute economic crisis with worsening food insecurity forecasted between October 2022 and February 2023.

It is projected that 6.2 million people, or 28 per cent of the total population, are moderately acute food insecure, while 66,000 people are severely acute food insecure.

“Two in five households (41.8 per cent) spend more than 75 per cent of their expenditures on purchasing food, leaving little to spend on health and education. Many families have exhausted their savings and are struggling to make ends meet due to crippling inflation,” the Unicef report said.

Amidst inflation soaring from 14.2 per cent in January to 66 per cent in October, children continue to face protection challenges, with increasing reports of more parents seeking to admit their children to childcare institutes due to rising food insecurity, poverty and labour migration by parents.

Sri Lanka’s outward labour migration has increased by 286 per cent (year-on-year) in 2022 amid deepening economic and political crises in the country.

Children’s education is one the worst affected areass, as many have dropped out of schools or reported frequently low attendance particularly in rural areas.

This was mainly due to transportation challenges, economic hardship and limited provision of school meals, which discourages school attendance, the Unicef stated.

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