SRI LANKA: Malnutrition and Starvation- Next Stage of the Crisis

By Basil Fernando

As people began to learn about the terrible consequences of the dollar crisis, there also emerged a political slogan that seemed to suit the occasion. “Gota Go Home” became the slogan and in no time it became the rallying cry from almost everyone throughout the country. There appeared at the time there is a unity of purpose and a unity of perspective among all those who were participating in adopting that slogan.

The actual reason that pushed forward this massive movement varied. For majority of people, one of the most compelling reasons which dragged them to the streets was the threat of an imminent food crisis. From around the country, many people began to complain that they are unable to have their meals as they used to have in the past. Many complained of having one or two meals a day and there were others who even complained of going without food for several days. The gravity of this problem got manifested when it was found even by international organizations such as UNICEF that 1.7% of Sri Lankan children before the age of 5 are malnourished. The report also said that out of these malnourished children, 17% are suffering from acute forms of malnourishment which will leave permanent consequences on their bodies. A compelling reason therefore for the massive people’s anger that arose was primarily economic in the most basic sense in terms of threat to the availability of food.

Following that problem were also revelations of inadequate supply of medical facilities which have threatened the life of patients suffering from serious illnesses. Added to this were the problems of the inability to deal with the problems of children by getting them into schools and providing the facilities for their education.

Aggravating all this was the problem of the difficulties created for travel. The severe shortages of petrol, diesel and even kerosene oil was symbolic of the problems that people began to face in terms of carrying on with their lives and that aggravated the threat to food, medicine, education and the like because without being able to carry on with their livelihoods, there was no way for them to have the basic purchasing power of the essential needs. These economic problem were severely aggravated by massive levels of inflation. In short, everybody of the mid and lower income groups were affected by unprecedented levels of basic economic hardships.

When people suffering from such acute economic problems responded to call for the resignation of the president, what they would have expected is some quick solution to these economic hardships. The head of the state was seen as the major cause which created their problems and therefore his quick demise they would naturally have thought would bring about some relief for these acute problems.

However, among those who supported and promoted “Gota Go Home” were others who had other ideas and other prospects. It is quite natural that people who are looking for political opportunities or political change also seize in the unrest of people an opportunity to achieve political changes that they desire. Naturally, such sections play more vocal roles during the times of peoples protests and during the times of serious unrest. At last they would have believed that the sleeping giant that is the people has awoken and that the long-standing dreams of people who wanted more changes either for the benefit of the society or for themselves could utilize this situation for their benefit.

So long as the president remained in his seat, these people who have been moved due to different impulses could work together and it would even be possible to make it appear that everyone is engaged in pursuit of fame, ambitions and working towards same/similar changes. However, the departure of the president which was a cause to celebrate has brought to surface more serious problems underlining the extent of mutual understanding and common purpose that exist or that does not exist among those who joined in protests. Now, these differences are surfacing in a severe manner.

Some speak of having some secret plans for achieving changes if the political tendency that they support would be given the political power. Naturally, none of them come forward to explain what these plans or perspectives are. Perhaps, there is no such plan. If one were to go by past experiences, the political changes come about for various reasons but once in power those who are in power do not have any workout ideas to resolve any of the major problems that are facing the country.

However, the present moment is very unlike such moments in the past. When people in the street were moved and that is not something that could be wished away with fine rhetoric’s or by various kinds of excuses as to why that cannot be done urgently. Food or no food is a life and death question. Naturally, those who engage in this struggle with the view to find solutions to such problems are not going to be satisfied by merely supporting this or that political tendency who wants to utilize this situation for them to come to power.
Those who are irritated by the people’s insistence on immediate solutions to their problems may even think of pushing their way through other means such as by use of methods commotion. This kind of thing has happened in history over and over again and the result has always been to make the situation of the people who are already suffering from acute problems even worse.

On the other hand, any open discussions about perspectives that may bring about changes which will answer the greater problems faced by people can itself lead to much conflicts. Those who wish to raise these questions may even be treated as those who raise unnecessary questions at a time when people have come together for the first time for pursuing some common goals.

The issue really is that what the common goals is no longer clear. That is the very reason why more discussions among those who share the same ultimate aims are needed. Democracy among those who are seeking to establish democratic way of life in the country has become a dire need. Every attempt to prevent such discussions are in fact going against the very essence of the very forced that propelled the people to street in search of solutions which they require on an urgent basis.

It is suggested that the very clear position needed to develop among those who are struggling for a change above all to find a solution to the food crisis. International organizations have already pointed out that the food crisis may lead to situations of starvation. In conceived economic policies have often led to massive forms of starvation which has killed large numbers of people in different countries. One glaring example is that of Cambodia where due to an attempt to achieve a rapid agricultural revolution brought about one of the worst crises known in history. Within a short period of over 3 year, 1/7 of the population died mostly due to starvation.

Thus, development of conditions of acute food crisis including the possibility of starvation is a real threat. It is this real threat that should concern everyone who is engaged in trying to resolve the kind of problems have arisen with the departure of the president Gotabaya. Gotabaya’s departure is merely a step in the direction of removing an obstacle. However, there are many other obstacles to be overcome if the peoples’ demand for food and basic needs are to be met on an urgent basis.

Document Type : Article
Document ID : AHRC-ART-024-2022
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Right to food, Right to health, Right to life,