COLOMBO – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) began distributing food vouchers to pregnant women in underserved districts of Colombo on June 16, marking the start of the U.N. World Food Programme’s emergency response in the country. The U.N. World Food Programme is working to provide lifesaving food, cash and voucher assistance to 3 million of the most vulnerable people who can no longer meet their food needs due to Sri Lanka’s unprecedented economic crisis.

The monthly vouchers are valued at $40 and will enable more than 2,000 women to buy food. The vouchers are delivered alongside prenatal care provided by the Public Health Division of the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC).

Food inflation in Colombo set a record high of 57.4% in May, and widespread shortages of fuel for cooking and transport mean families living in poverty are struggling to afford food. Nearly 5 million people, or 22% of the Sri Lankan population, are hungry and in need of assistance. Nutritious foods such as vegetables, fruits and protein-rich products are now out of reach for many low-income families. The U.N. World Food Programme’s recent surveys indicated 86% of families are resorting to at least one coping mechanism including eating less, eating less nutritious food and even skipping meals altogether.

“Pregnant mothers need to eat nutritious meals every day, but the poorest find it harder and harder to afford the basics. When they skip meals they’re putting their and their children’s health at risk,” said Anthea Webb, U.N. World Food Programme deputy regional director for Asia and the Pacific from Colombo.

“Poor families in cities and those who work on estates have seen their incomes plummet while market prices have soared. Each day that passes sees an increase in food and fuel prices globally, making it vital that we act now,” she noted.

The U.N. World Food Programme has long supported the Sri Lankan government’s national nutrition programs, but they are severely constrained by the economic crisis. To bolster existing social safety net programs, the U.N. World Food Programme’s emergency response program aims to assist:

  • 1 million children through the national school meal program
  • 1 million people participating in the Thriposha program, which provides nutritionally-fortified food to mothers and children
  • 1 million people in need of emergency food rations through food, cash or vouchers

The U.N. World Food Programme’s response is part of the Humanitarian Needs and Priorities Plan launched by the United Nations in Sri Lanka on June 9, which called for $47 million to provide lifesaving assistance to 1.7 million people through September. Given its concern that food and nutrition needs will persist beyond September, the U.N. World Food Programme estimates it will require $60 million to assist 3 million people from June through December 2022.

Existing donors to the U.N. World Food Programme’s Sri Lanka program include Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, Japan, Korea, Mastercard, Russia, Switzerland, United Nations Peacebuilding Fund and the United States.

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The United Nations World Food Programme is the world’s largest humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change.

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COLOMBO – The Scaling Up Nutrition Business Network (SUN BN), led by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), today brought together thirty leading Sri Lankan businesses to pledge their support for three important agendas:

  1. Improving workplace health and nutrition efforts
  2. Producing healthy food
  3. Promoting healthy food consumption

A global network spanning 41 countries, SUN BN aims to reduce malnutrition in all its forms through engaging and supporting businesses to act, invest and innovate in responsible and sustainable actions and operations to improve nutrition.

Recognizing the critical role of the private sector in providing solutions to health and nutrition issues, the U.N. World Food Programme helped establish SUN Business Network in March 2019 to address the gap between rapid national economic growth and stagnant malnutrition rates.

Sri Lanka became a signatory to the SUN Global Movement in 2009, of which the SUN BN is one action pillar. This November, Sri Lanka was internationally recognized at the SUN Movement – Global Gathering in Kathmandu, Nepal for bringing together the private sector and taking bold action to improve nutrition at all levels.

Today’s meeting considered Sri Lanka members’ specific action plans for 2020 as part of a larger strategy going forward, including establishing common goals and results for collaboration between all stakeholders over the next two years.

Shanelle De Almeida, Group Wellness Manager of Hemas Holdings PLC and the lead of the workplace health and nutrition workgroup said: “The SUN BN is a great initiative to bring together like-minded organizations and people who are passionate about creating a healthy food culture in our community. The network provides a communication bridge for positive change.”

Expanding on the role of the SUN BN, Brenda Barton, WFP Representative in Sri Lanka said: “The U.N. World Food Programme is happy to facilitate this platform for businesses in Sri Lanka. The network connects the private sector, governments, civil society, the United Nations, and academia in a collective effort to improve nutrition in Sri Lanka. Convening, assessing and advocating for nutrition is more important than ever before with the country facing a nutritional ‘double burden’ — undernutrition rates unchanged for over a decade in addition to soaring rates of overweight and obesity.”

Sri Lanka’s universal health care and free education policies over the last few decades continue to help the country go forward. However, poor nutrition status remains an issue and continues to impact the country’s ability to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly SDG 2 – Zero Hunger.

The country has one of the highest rates (top 10 worst in the world) of acute malnutrition – which is “wasting’ or thinness – in children under five years of age. These rates have remained largely unchanged over the last decade. At the same time, overnutrition is rapidly emerging, with 45% of women of reproductive age overweight or obese.

Poor nutrition also is linked to the country’s high incidence of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart diseases and diabetes – causing more than three-quarters of all deaths.

The Private Sector organizations engaged with the Sun Business Network are: AIA Insurance Lanka Plc, Aitken Spence, Brandix, Dentsu Grant, Dialog, Hemas Holdings PLC, HSBC, London Stock Exchange Group, Mas Capital Ltd, MAS Holdings, MasterCard, Richard Pieris (Arpico) Maskeliya plantation, Standard Chartered Bank, Virtusa (Pvt) Ltd, Adamjee Marketing, Calorie Counter, Cargills Ceylon Limited, CIC Holdings PLC, CSR Sri Lanka, Dialog, Federation of Chamber of Commerce, Jetwing Hotels, John Keells Holdings PLC, Prima Group, SLFPA, Matale District of Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture, Cargills (Ceylon) PLC, CoCo Green (Pvt. Ltd), Dilmah, Hayleys PLC, Saaraketha Holdings, SCAN, Unilever, Shangri –La, Ceylon Biscuits Ltd, South Asia Gateway Terminals (Pvt) Ltd.

The SUN Business Network is supported by donations to the U.N. World Food Programme from Japanese private sector associations.


The United Nations World Food Programme – saving lives in emergencies and changing lives for millions through sustainable development. WFP works in more than 80 countries around the world, feeding people caught in conflict and disasters, and laying the foundations for a better future.

Follow us on Twitter @WFPUSA, @WFPSriLanka, @UNSriLanka

For more information please contact:

Farzana Khan, WFP/Colombo, Tel: +94 (0) 112 555520/ +94 (0) 114740350, farzana.khan@wfp.org

Sadhana Mohan, WFP/Colombo, Tel: +94 (0) 112 555520/+94 (0) 114740350, sadhana.mohan@wfp.org

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