Sri Lanka's food gap widens in wake of regional floods and drought, UN agencies warn

Rice drying in Sri Lanka, March 2017. Photo: FAO

22 June 2017 – An extreme drought followed by floods has affected large swathes of cropland in Sri Lanka, United Nations agencies reported today, warning that the disaster threatens the food security of some 900,000 people.

Having lost their crops to drought and floods, Sri Lanka's most vulnerable groups are struggling to earn an income, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP). Following the bad harvests, many, the agencies add, are now also forced to buy food from local markets.

As access for families to nutritious food has been reduced – forcing many to eat less – prices at local markets have risen sharply, with rice prices reaching an all-time high in January.

Now, nearly 225,000 households (or about 900,000 people) face food insecurity, the UN agencies say.

A previous joint assessment showed that in 10 districts about one third of the drought-affected population had its regular income reduced by more than half.

To cover immediate needs, FAO and WFP are calling in the current Crop and Food Security Assessment for the urgent provision of seeds, as well as planting and irrigation equipment for the next planting season, from September to December, as well as support for irrigation systems.

Additionally, both agencies recommend quick and targeted cash assistance for the poorest and most vulnerable families to ensure adequate food intake and to prevent them from incurring unsustainably high debt or adopting other coping mechanisms that could have long-term negative effects.

Rice production to drop by nearly 40 per cent in 2017

Based on findings in the report, which assesses the seriousness of a crisis situation by looking at the food produced nationally and the extent to which poor people can meet their basic food needs, both agencies argue that drought conditions in 2016 and early 2017 led to widespread crop failures, in particular for rice paddy – the country's staple food.

Total paddy production in 2017 is forecast at 2.7 million metric tonnes, almost 40 per cent less than the last year's output and 35 per cent lower than the average of the previous five years.

Following last month's severe flooding and landslides, the agencies note that the heavy rains did not ease the water supply constraints in the drought-impacted north-central and eastern parts of the South Asian country.

Looking ahead, the situation may further deteriorate if the next cropping season fails. Current predictions show the second 2017 paddy harvest – known as Yala, due to be harvested in August and September – is forecast at 1.2 million metric tonnes, 24 per cent below last year's level.


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