An ongoing economic crisis and political turmoil have pushed food price inflation above 90 percent, with fuel shortages disrupting access, livelihoods and food safety programs, leaving millions of people vulnerable to food insecurity.
Pregnant and anxious
While the food stamps are being handed out, the women go up an open staircase to the hall on the first floor to await their turn. Many of them are young and in their first pregnancy. The floor gets crowded, but everyone is masked to guard against COVID-19 infection.
Though most faces are covered, fear and anxiety are visible in their eyes.
Dushanthi, 32, a mother of a three-year-old and a housewife in her third trimester of pregnancy, is among the women who received the vouchers redeemable for food items worth 15,000 Sri Lankan rupees, just over $40. .
“Our lives have become more difficult these days. Everyone is dealing with economic problems without fuel and high prices, but we (pregnant women) are find it even harder”, she says sitting on a concrete platform, with other women.
Her resilience is remarkable as she patiently explains what the voucher means to her.
“This is a huge help for pregnant women like me. It will not only help me, but also my unborn baby. I would like to use this voucher to buy healthy foods such as lentils and fruits for me and my baby,” Dushanthi added.
While these vouchers are specifically intended to support pregnant women who have a critical nutritional gap, it is clear that this will be used to support the whole family as the need is too great.
In Dushanti’s case, it will be her child, both parents and husband, who… has not had a daily wage for a while.
Three in ten Sri Lankans face food insecurity during the country’s worst economic crisis since independence in 1948. Pregnant women, breastfeeding women, children under the age of five and people with disabilities are among the worst affected.
The government’s efforts to maintain essential aid programs are severely hampered by the economic crisis. Women and children who have benefited from national social safety net programs are without this crucial lifeline and face serious nutritional and health risks.
Growing threat of malnutrition
The flagship Thriposha nutritional support program for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and young children has stalled. Combined with income losses and inflation, this could lead to higher rates of malnutrition for women and their children.
Udeni Dematapaksha, Special Chief Nurse of Kuppiyawatta Maternity Hospital, is well aware of the struggles these mothers are going through, and you can hear a hint of despair in her voice.
“We used to give Thriposha support to pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers. But since january they don’t receive it. Today we are handing out vouchers for pregnant mothers, and that is very valuable,” says the head nurse.
A young midwife, Tarni, quickly adds the irony they face as they must list nutritious foods and fruits that pregnant women should take for their health and that of their unborn child, despite knowing that most of them not be at home. of range.
“Many families no longer cook and resort to arranging poor quality meals from different places because that’s all they can afford. These are difficult times and we are concerned about the mothers,” she added.
Even before the ongoing crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, Sri Lankan women and children suffered far more malnutrition than most other middle-income countries: 17 percent of children under 5 were too small for their age (limited) and 15 percent were too thin for their height (wasted), a figure considered ‘very high’ in the WHO classification.
Food is hope
“Focusing on vulnerable populations and communities is a priority to avert a humanitarian crisissaid Indu Abeyratne, Activity Manager at WFP Sri Lanka, who is closely involved in the emergency response rollout.
Every woman we meet at the point of sale has a good idea of what they want to use the vouchers for. Some of these products would be very common in ordinary times, but are now out of reach – like the young pregnant woman who listed papaya as her first purchase because she craved it.
“The food voucher is the first of many nutritional support interventions that these women need. But they are full of hope while holding the vouchers”, adds Abeyratne.
The WFP will reach nearly 1.5 million people in need of emergency food assistance through food, cash or vouchers.
While the existing social safety net is strengthened to help one million children through the national school meal program, there will be one million targeted beneficiaries as part of a government initiative that provides for enriched food for mothers and children.
Nearly 6.3 million people are food insecure and in need of assistance. Recent WFP surveys show that: 61 percent of families resort to at least one coping mechanism, including eating less, eating less nutritious food, and even skipping meals.