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Sri Lanka: UN food agency to help 300,000 drought victims

Sri Lanka: UN food agency to help 300,000 drought victims

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today announced the launch of an emergency operation to feed 300,000 people in Sri Lanka, where a severe and prolonged drought has pushed large segments of the population into hardship.

Under the $8.2 million operation, which runs from October 2001 to March 2002, WFP will distribute a month's supply of rice, lentils and sugar to the most vulnerable people in the three hardest-hit districts in southern Sri Lanka's arid zone. Characterized by limited natural resources, these districts are home to the country's poorest residents.

The agency will also give a fortified blended food mix to 50,000 children under age five and 14,000 pregnant women and nursing mothers, in order to avert a decline in nutrition among these chronically destitute Sri Lankans.

"The people we need to help have virtually nothing left to sustain themselves," said WFP Sri Lanka Country Director Jeff Taft-Dick. "Their fruit trees are dying and their rice paddies are too dry to produce a crop this year. The majority of the wells have dried up and the only source of drinking water is government tankers that come through their area sporadically."

While providing relief rations, WFP will also introduce work schemes - such as cleaning and desilting of irrigation canals - that will benefit the community. These schemes, designed to offset the effects of future droughts, will carry the 225,000 participants through to the next harvest in March 2002.

A joint assessment mission conducted last month by WFP and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) found that between 30 and 50 per cent of the people in the drought zone were already living below the poverty line when the rains stopped.

"What we are seeing now is that many families are down to one meal a day," said Mr. Taft-Dick. "Most of them have smallhold plots but they can barely grow enough for the family to eat once a day."

WFP has been working in Sri Lanka since 1968, assisting families facing chronic food insecurity. Currently, the agency feeds some 80,000 people displaced by conflict in the northeast and runs food-for-work projects for 58,000 trying to achieve economic self-reliance.