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What is the ‘food emergency’ in Sri Lanka?

GS Paper 2

Topics Covered: India and its neighbours.

 

‘food emergency’ 

Context:

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has declared Emergency regulations pertaining to the distribution of essential food items.

 

As per the regulations:

  • Authorities are empowered to provide essential food items at a “concessionary rate” to the public by purchasing stocks of essential food items, including paddy, rice and sugar, at government-guaranteed prices, and prevent market irregularities and hoarding.

 

What’s the issue?

  1. There is a possibility of food shortage in the Country, with the government’s drastic measures against hoarding.
  2. Fuelling the speculation are different factors, including the country’s known reliance on imports for essentials — such as petroleum, sugar, dairy products, wheat, medical supplies — its fast-dwindling foreign reserves, from $7.5 billion in November 2019 to $2.8 billion in July 2021, and the daunting foreign debt repayment schedule in the coming years.
  3. The pandemic’s lethal blow since early 2020, to all major sources of foreign exchange earnings — exports, worker remittances and tourism — has further compounded the economic stress.
  4. The fear of a possible food shortage also stems from the Rajapaksa administration’s decision in April to ban import of chemical fertilizers and adopting an “organic only” approach.

 

Current situation:

Many, especially daily-wage earners, and low-income families, are complaining about being unable to afford, and in many cases access, essentials such as milk, sugar, and rice during the current lockdown, imposed on August 20 following a rapid surge in daily Covid-19 cases and fatalities, and extended twice since.

  • Prices of essential commodities — including rice, dhal, bread, sugar, vegetables, fish — have risen several times during the pandemic, and more rapidly in recent weeks.

 

What is the criticism of the latest move?

  • Criticism of the Emergency regulations has largely been over the government’s legal choices, and their political implications.
  • There is also concern that emergency regulations would be used to curb protests and other democratic action.

 

Challenges ahead:

  1. Sri Lanka does not have a universal public distribution system or ration cards that can ensure essential goods reach all consumers.
  2. The current regulations do not address fundamental economic problems, and instead pose the risk of creating black markets.

 

Insta Curious:

Do you know about the UN World Food Programme, the world’s largest humanitarian organization? Reference

Sources: the Hindu.