Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan families in desperate situation from third year of drought, says Red Cross Red Crescent

Many families in southern Sri Lanka are being forced to eat tree leaves as a substitute for vegetables, along with meagre rice rations, to survive. Three successive years of drought have again led to crop failure and the lack of water is also threatening the long-term health of the population, warned the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies today.
Releasing 200,000 Swiss francs from its emergency relief funds for immediate action, the International Federation has launched an appeal for nearly 2.5 million Swiss francs to support the Sri Lanka Red Cross in assisting 18,000 of the most vulnerable people over nine months with food and access to water.

More than 400,000 people have been affected by the drought that has continued unabated in some pockets of Hambantota district for two and a half years. Sri Lanka Red Cross and International Federation assessments have found that people are receiving just one third of their daily energy and protein requirements. The average birth weight has fallen and the number of dysentery cases is also four times higher in Hambantota district than the national average.

Last year the Sri Lanka Red Cross, with support from a Federation appeal, distributed food to 21,000 people over six months in the worst-affected areas of the district. But with rains failing again, many families are reduced to eating one or two meals a day.

"Although staple foods are available in the markets, people can't afford to buy them. Prices have risen by 50% and casual work opportunities have dried up just like the paddy fields," said Erwin Bulathasinghala, Secretary General of the Sri Lanka Red Cross. "And those who pawned everything to moneylenders to buy seeds have seen their crops wither and die, leaving them in a desperate financial situation."

The daily drinking and cooking consumption of water is less than 20% of the minimum requirements with people having to walk an average of 6 kilometres to reach water tanks. This has seen a fall in hygiene standards and a consequent increase in dysentery and diarrhoea cases as people don't even have water to wash their hands.

The International Federation appeal will support the Sri Lanka Red Cross in a supplementary food distribution programme while health and sanitation issues will be addressed through the provision of water storage tanks, rainwater collection systems and transportation of water supplies. In addition, Red Cross volunteers, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, will undertake a nutrition and sanitation education campaign in the most vulnerable areas, particularly targeting female-headed families..

For further information, or to set up interviews, please contact:

Bijoy Patro, Information Officer Tel: + 41 22 730 4377 / 91 981 0284196

Tushari Samarawickrema, Sri Lanka Red Cross Tel: + 94 775 365 78

The Geneva-based International Federation promotes the humanitarian activities of 178 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies among vulnerable people. By coordinating international disaster relief and encouraging development support, it seeks to prevent and alleviate human suffering. The Federation, National Societies and the International Committee of the Red Cross together, constitute the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.