SRI LANKA: More than two thirds of families struggling to feed themselves as economic crisis wipes out incomes

More than two in three families in Sri Lanka do not have enough to eat, according to a survey by Save the Children, which warned the country’s economic crisis is rapidly becoming a full-blown humanitarian emergency. 

The survey of more than 2,300 families in the crisis-hit country found that 85% of households had lost income since the onset of the economic crisis, with more than half losing most of their income and 1 in 10 losing their entire income. 

Price hikes, a lack of fuel and food shortages have left families struggling to feed their children. More than a third (35%) of families said they had been forced to reduce their children’s food intake in the past two weeks while 30% said they had reduced the number of meals they eat in a day. Only about one third (31%) said they were able to meet their household food needs. 

Families are being forced into increasingly desperate measures to survive, Save the Children warned. Some 12% of the poorest households have resorted to what are known as “crisis-level’’ measures to respond to food shortages, such as borrowing money, taking children out of school or selling essential assets. Of those surveyed, 3% of families – a total of 70 – said they had turned to “emergency-level” coping strategies such as selling their homes, child labour, child marriage, begging or illegal activities like theft or sex work. 

Some 39% of families said they had had to borrow money to buy food, while 17% sold household assets to feed their children. 

Zaineb*, 47, a single mother from Colombo, said her income had fallen about 80% due to the crisis. She told Save the Children: 

“My income has fallen by about 80%, maybe even 100%, when you factor in the increased price of food. We have to make the little food we have stretch for the whole week. Even tea is now a special thing to drink.”

“I waited in line for seven days in a row to get fuel. I go at 5 am together with around three or four people, and come back only at 11.30pm. Because of the fuel issue, we can only eat twice a day. We can’t use electricity to cook because it’s too expensive and we have to save it for other things.

“The government has told us to grow a home garden. We don’t have soil. Where is the soil? It’s all unaffordable now. How can we grow a tree? Even if we were able to get soil and grow a tree, plants take around three months to produce fruit. Are we to go without food for three months?”

Save the Children’s National Director in Sri Lanka, Julian Chellappah, said: 

“The economic situation in Sri Lanka remains critical. The fuel and food crisis continues to cause widespread instability. The vast majority of people across Sri Lanka are struggling. They are struggling to get food on the table, fuel in their car and access to basic healthcare. “

“We are urging the government to find a sustainable political and economic solution to this crisis, to get Sri Lanka back on its feet and give families hope for the future. And we are calling on donors to urgently provide life-saving assistance to families most affected by the crisis and prevent this crisis spiralling any further.” 

Save the Children is responding to the needs of vulnerable families with plans to provide cash and livelihoods support for nearly 1 million people.

*names have been changed for safety reasons