10/24/2022, 15.30
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Sri Lanka to set up food banks at religious sites

by Arundathie Abeysinghe

The initiative will collect excess food and avoid waste. Many children have stopped going to school because lunch is no longer guaranteed. The funds allocated by the government are not enough.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Food banks and food exchange centres have been set up at religious facilities to provide food to needy families under the direction of the Ministry of Buddhasasana,[*] Religious and Cultural Affairs.

The plan involves 14,000 village service centres that collect surplus food and deliver it to food banks, which in turn distribute it. Thus, no food will be wasted.

To implement the programme, the government will rely on Buddhist monks and priests who are thought to have a better understanding of the living conditions of ordinary people affected by the economic crisis.

For months, Sri Lanka has been facing an unprecedented crisis that saw it default on its foreign debt in April with many families facing food insecurity.

“The decision to create food banks with the assistance of clergy was taken to ensure that distribution to the needy was conducted in a transparent manner, instead of lists submitted by politicians in relevant areas,” said a senior analyst who took part in the meetings to discuss the programme speaking to AsiaNews.

Meanwhile, an education department official said that information from several school principals indicates that large numbers of children from low-income families were “skipping school” since parents were unable to feed them and "many students were fainting during the morning assembly."

According to a recent government report, "One in seven children have dropped out of school due to food shortages.”

According to a senior education ministry official, “out of 4.1 million students, only 1.1 million receive midday meals,” this despite government funding (60 rupees, or 16 US cents per meal).

In the districts of Monaragala, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, most parents are day wage earners employed as bricklayers, carpenters, plumbers, or labourers.

Some have not found work for days or even weeks forcing them to pawn the family jewels to buy basic necessities.

“The 60 rupees the government has allocated is not enough. An egg costs 50 rupees so it is not possible to provide a full meal. Most of the children are fed thanks to the goodwill of the community," said the principal of a rural school.

The government set itself the goal of providing lunch for one million children in order to keep them in school.

Several international organisations such as Save The Children and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) are working with the Education Ministry while some groups have set up “community kitchens” in Wattegama, Maskeliya and Dickoya aimed at school children.

[*] Buddha’s dispensation or teachings.

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