Sri Lanka: Widespread malnutrition among women and children

Published on WSWS, by Sujeewa Amaranath and Kapila Fernando, 10 June 2010.

Recently released surveys reveal that acute malnutrition is rife among Sri Lankan children and women, as a result of the country’s 30-year civil war and widespread poverty throughout the country.

Data from a Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) by Sri Lanka’s health ministry, published in the state-owned Daily News on May 29, revealed that child malnutrition is more than 50 percent in some areas of the East and North, with the national average at a record 29 percent.

In the Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Ampara districts in the eastern province, child malnutrition is 53, 45 and 44 percent, respectively. In the northern districts of Vavuniya and Jaffna it is 51 percent and 43 percent. The highest numbers of underweight children in these areas were in the 12-35 month age group, with a slight reduction in those aged 36 to 59 months. Malnutrition among girls is 42 percent and 50 percent for boys.

The North and East were where bloody fighting took place between the Sri Lankan military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) during the past five years. The Mullaithivu and Kilinochchi districts were excluded from the survey. In the final months before the LTTE’s defeat in May 2009, the Sri Lankan military bombarded these districts ruthlessly, killing thousands of Tamil civilians and forcing hundreds of thousands into ever smaller areas.

After the war about 280,000 Tamils were detained in military-controlled camps. While about 60,000 remain in these camps, others have been sent to Kilinochchi and Mullaithivu without proper housing or healthcare assistance programs. Food supplies in these areas were limited or completely halted during the war, paving the way for widespread poverty and hunger.

While the malnutrition figures are lower in other parts of Sri Lanka, the situation is nevertheless alarming. According to a recently released 2006-07 Demographic and Health Survey, which excluded the northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka, found the national average of underweight babies was 17 percent and the figure had not improved since the last survey … //

… The UNICEF-WFP report concluded that the high percentage of households living on “borrowed food and reduced meals as a coping strategy”, and prevalence of anaemia among women and malnutrition among the preschool children, were serious public health issues. The government, however, has no solutions to these acute problems.

The government, the UN and various corporations recently launched a fund-raising campaign focussing on “eradicating child malnutrition”. On June 6, Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapakse, Education Minister Bandula Gunawardena, various UN agencies, and representatives from TNT Express and Unilever carried out a promotional train journey from Colombo to a suburban town.

This campaign is a fraud, however, designed to divert attention from preparations for severe austerity measures in the budget due at the end of this month. Faced with International Monetary Fund demands to halve the budget deficit, the government will slash social spending and increase taxes. As a result, poverty and the acute health problems facing the Sri Lankan masses will only worsen. (full text).

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