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Humanitarian Action for Children 2022 - Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka
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  • Children are disproportionately affected by the rapidly unfolding economic crisis in Sri Lanka. Rising food and fuel prices, along with frequent power cuts, shortages of life-saving medicine, are particularly impacting the poorest and most marginalized.

  • More than 5.7 million people, including 2.3 million children, require humanitarian assistance. Sri Lanka is among the top ten countries with the highest number of malnourished children and the numbers are expected to rise further. Essential health and WASH services have been severely impacted by stockouts of essential commodities, and access to education and child protection services is severely constrained. Loss and precariousness of income means that children are being exposed to violence and stress, and increased school absenteeism/dropout due to the current crisis could further increase such risks. In addition, more families are soliciting to institutionalize their children in face of aggravating poverty.

  • In line with Core Commitments for Children in Humanitarian Action and the inter-agency Humanitarian Needs and Priorities Plan for Sri Lanka, UNICEF requires US$25.3 million to meet critical needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized children and their families by ensuring continued access to essential services and support.


  • Children are disproportionately affected by the unfolding economic crisis in Sri Lanka. Concurrent challenges of increasing public debt and fiscal deficit have impacted availability and affordability of essential commodities such as food, fuel, fertilizers, and medicine. These in turn have disrupted livelihoods and reduced household incomes across the country. As a result, around 5.7 million people, including 2.3 million children, are now in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. Sri Lanka's food production and harvest is expected to drop by at least 40 to 50 per cent in the coming months resulting in a further deterioration of the situation. Families are already struggling to afford food, with 70 per cent of households reporting reduced food consumption. Sri Lanka is second in South Asia in terms of wasting among children under five. Halted distribution of free supplementary food for malnourished children and the faltering provision of nutritious school meals will result in more children suffering from acute malnutrition.

  • Sri Lanka's alarming food security and nutrition situation is further threatened by a reduction in the availability of safe water, increasing the risk of diarrhoeal diseases. The provision of safe water has been severely impacted by the power crisis and constraints in importing purification and disinfection chemicals, including chlorine.

  • All essential health services have been severely impacted by critical shortages of medicine. There are ongoing stockouts of essential medicines affecting pregnant and lactating women and children, which are likely to continue for several months.

  • Learning has also been severely interrupted – many schools just re-opened following some of the longest pandemic-related school closures in the region – disrupting learning for 4.8 million children. School attendance rates have fallen dramatically and are likely to fall further with the halt in school meals – often the only source of nutritious food for many marginalized children.

  • The current crisis is exacerbating existing protection concerns and psychosocial issues among children, exposing them to numerous protection risks. Over 10,000 children are in institutions (poverty is the major driver for placement) and their conditions will be compromised as the crisis worsens and as additional families place their children in institutional care since they cannot afford to feed or educate them.

  • High inflation and shrinking fiscal space could mean that poverty doubles in the next 24 months, with 93 per cent of those below the poverty line in the rural and the estate sector. Sri Lanka’s social protection system is fragmented, and several programmes do not reach the most vulnerable, and many negative coping mechanisms have been reported including institutionalization of children, school absenteeism/drop-out, limited food intake, aggravated by the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, and current socio-economic and political crisis.