A middle-income country, Sri Lanka is focusing its development agenda on accelerating economic growth and recovering from a 30-year civil war that ended in 2009, while ensuring good governance and sustaining peace. The country is credited with considerable advancement in several development areas, including promoting universal primary education, reducing maternal and child mortality, and halving poverty levels. However, progress towards achieving food security, improved nutrition and gender equality, as well as minimizing geographic and socio-economic development disparities, has not been equally swift.
Undernutrition remains of serious concern and is considered an obstacle to socio-economic development. At 13%, Sri Lanka’s level of chronic malnutrition, or stunting, is among the lowest in the region. However, the same cannot be said for acute malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies – where individuals lack vital vitamins and minerals. The 2012 national nutrition survey found that, with a 19.6% prevalence of wasting, Sri Lanka was ranking third in the world, only behind Djibouti and South Sudan. High levels of acute malnutrition – ranging between 14 and 35 percent – were found across all 25 districts surveyed.
As an island nation, Sri Lanka is highly vulnerable to climate change. Extreme weather events and recurrent natural disasters (droughts, floods and landslides) have an adverse impact on socio-economic progress. Currently, 1.2 million people across the country are affected by drought, which started in 2016 and has continued with subsequent seasons of poor rainfall. The country’s worst drought in 40 years – affecting 20 out of 25 districts – has led to the loss of crops and agricultural labour opportunities. This has had a severe impact on food security, nutrition and income levels, and has resulted in growing debt and restricted access to water for drinking and cultivation.
In Sri Lanka, WFP aims to contribute to addressing the underlying causes of food insecurity and malnutrition and promote longer-term recovery and resilience, while maintaining its emergency response capacity. WFP and the Government of Sri Lanka have been working together for nearly 50 years. WFP’s activities in the country have an increasing focus on providing technical and policy support to build national capacity to ensure access to food, end malnutrition and improve the productivity and incomes of smallholder farmers.
What the World Food Programme is doing in Sri Lanka
Emergency preparedness and response
WFP emergency relief interventions support highly vulnerable communities during a disaster and in the recovery phase, with the aim to ensure that those affected have adequate access to food. In addition, WFP works to strengthen government capacity on: shock responsive safety nets; early warning systems; situation mapping and vulnerability analysis; food/cash assistance; and state-of-the-art map-based visualizations for early shocks response warning.
WFP supports the government in ensuring that targeted school-aged children have access to mid-morning meals. The programme currently benefits 160,000 children in 968 schools in former conflict areas in the Northern Province. This addresses short-term hunger, increases school retention, improves health and encourages community integration.
To improve nutrition, WFP supports the health system in the prevention and management of moderate acute malnutrition; facilitates the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) civil society and business networks; promotes behaviour change communication; develops nutrition products; and strengthens capacities to enhance the availability, accessibility, and consumption of fortified foods, including Thriposha (locally produced corn-soya blend) and fortified rice.
Resilience building and livelihood support
WFP works to enhance the capacities, assets and systems of the most vulnerable families and communities to prepare, withstand and recover better from recurrent climate-induced shocks. The focus is on 13 disaster-prone and food insecure districts, where WFP supports locally-driven projects, including environmental conservation, land rehabilitation, water harvesting, and skills training for livelihood support.