As Sri Lanka descends further into its worst economic and political crisis in 70 years, it is children who are suffering the most. A foreign currency shortage has left the country struggling to import essential goods, pushing food and fuel prices sky-high. Staples like rice, lentils, milk and cooking oil are slipping out of reach for many. Frequent, prolonged power cuts and shortages of lifesaving medicine are taking a heavy toll on the most marginalized, particularly the urban poor. 

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Nearly half of all children in Sri Lanka require some form of humanitarian assistance, according to UNICEF’s appeal. Even before the current crisis, Sri Lanka had the world’s seventh highest child malnutrition rates and was second in South Asia for child wasting under the age of 5. Two in five babies were not being fed the minimum acceptable diet. Above, a mother waits with her child inside the UNICEF-supported health clinic in the tea estate area in Hatton, central Sri Lanka.

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Supermarket shelves are emptying out, and the lines of anxious consumers outside stores and gas stations are growing longer. Seventy percent of households report they’ve cut down on food consumption, often going from three meals a day to two. As families turn to cheaper, less nutritious food, the number of children suffering from acute malnutrition is growing.

Access to safe water for drinking and domestic use is in decline, posing an increased risk of waterborne diseases.  Above, pregnant women wait to see a doctor at the health clinic in Hatton, Sri Lanka.

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“We are in a race against time,” said Christian Skoog, UNICEF Representative to Sri Lanka. “Without urgent assistance, the most vulnerable children will pay the highest price, and gains made over many years are at risk of being reversed — in some cases, permanently.”

With more than 50 years of field presence in Sri Lanka and a network of partners across the country, UNICEF is leading efforts on the ground to save lives and bring nutrition, health care, safe drinking water, education and mental health services to 1.7 million vulnerable children in Sri Lanka. Above, Dr. Ruwan Jayasingha from Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Health conducts a health checkup of a mother at the clinic in Hatton, Sri Lanka.

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UNICEF is working to cushion children in Sri Lanka from the toxic combination of poverty, COVID-19 and repeated climate-related disasters. The pandemic  disrupted the learning of 4.8 million children; a lack of fuel continues to keep children and teachers out of the classroom. On July 3, 2022, school closures were extended for another week due to a nationwide fuel shortage.  “My school in Colombo had to close before the end of the term,” said 17-year-old Jithmini, above. “I was not able to go to school because there was no fuel. I am worried about what will happen next. I just need fuel for my school van.”

The crisis in Sri Lanka is stretching vital social support systems to their limits — with a risk of collapse if urgent action is not taken. Your contribution can make a difference for families in need. Please donate.

Top photo: Murugayya Gunasekara, 30, holds his child outside the UNICEF-supported health clinic n Sannon Estate, Ambagamuwa MOH division, Hatton, central Sri Lanka. Parents are struggling to provide for their children as Sri Lanka’s economic and political crisis deepens. © UNICEF/UN0649769