With prices of essential grain hitting record levels around the world and no corresponding increases in finances the UN World Food Programme is cutting down on its rations to about one million Sri Lankans it is feeding in the North and East.
WFP Country Director of Mohamed Saleheen said they were forced by circumstances to suspend their food-for-work programme to about 175,000 people in the war-affected regions from May 1 and reduce rations of others from 1,900 kilo calories to 1,665 kilo calories per day per person.
While suspending the food-for work-programme, he said they would continue to assist the priority targets such as the IDPs, the returnees, the economically displaced, pregnant women, nursing mothers, children under five and school feeding, which he termed as absolutely imperative .
The WFP basket of rations comprises rice, wheat flour, cooking oil, dhal and sugar. The Sunday Times learns that the quantum of rice supplied -- 200 grammes per day per head -- will remain untouched, but cuts will be in wheat flour and sugar.
The Nation Building Ministry s Project Director, R.H.W.A. Kumarasiri, however, said that though they have had discussions regarding the problem, there was still no final decision on reducing the rations. Mr. Kumarasiri said there was no problem in WFP procuring items like rice from the local market. The problem was in imported food items like wheat flour which were affected by rising world prices.
But, according to the WFP, already two local suppliers who had contracted to supply rice this year had defaulted as they are unable to supply at the prices contracted six months earlier. Mr. Salaheen said though they had budgeted US$64 million this year to feed the affected people, so far they had only been able to raise less than half, leaving a gap of US$ 35 million to be filled.
The WFP Country Director, however, said compared to many other countries Sri Lanka s situation was much better. In an environment of severe competition for resources, some countries have not even been able to raise 30 percent of their requirements, he said.
Interestingly, unlike advice coming from World Bank and the IMF, the WFP in the current scenario welcomes price control on rice introduced by the government recently. Mr. Saleheen said it was a first good step, but insists that it should go hand in hand with more land being brought under cultivation, farmers being guaranteed a fair farm gate price and ensuring easy access to cheap rice.
As things are, he regrettably noted that in Sri Lanka and some of the other countries like his own Bangladesh the people on average spent 60 per cent of their income on food. Therefore there was an urgent necessity to adjust the social safety net, he said.
Mr. Saleheen warned that failure to meet the reality now would have its impact on ordinary people in several months down the line as their health might get affected. He was specially concerned about children and pregnant women. Last year the WFP provided dry rations to affected Lankans on a budget of US$ 50 million, with more than half of it coming from the United States.