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High food prices in Sri Lanka as fears grow about the cost of rice

In the eastern, northern and central provinces of Sri Lanka, people are beginning to pick up the pieces of their lives after the torrential floods which hit last month.

44 people died in the floods and landslides (with 4 more missing) and more than 400,000 were forced to abandon their homes. According to the National Disaster Management Centre, over 26,000 houses will need major repairs, while nearly 8,000 have to be rebuilt. The United Nations has already issued an emergency appeal for 51 million dollars to help the flood victims.

According to Reuters AlertNet Climate, one farmer in the village of Pallegedera Heenbanda described how torrential waters sliced away his village bridge, cutting it in half “like butter”. The Sri Lankan authorities have yet to assess the overall damage to roads and infrastructure. However, the loss in the region’s harvests is already becoming clear. The four eastern districts of Polonnaruwa, Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Ampara normally account for more than a fifth of the country’s rice production. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization estimates over 15 per cent of the main March crop - around 120 million dollars’ worth of rice - will have been lost. Lokuliyanage Piyadasa is one farmer who has suffered. He borrowed 600 dollars to cultivate land which should have produced a harvest worth 2,500 dollars. Now his acres are covered in weed and the rice plants are rotting, leaving him without a livelihood and in debt.

Sri Lanka has already seen a sharp rise in the cost of food, with vegetable prices increasing over 80 per cent since heavy rains began in December. Over recent weeks, costs have continued to rise, with beans, cabbage and carrots increasing by around 20 per cent in price. According to Reuters AlertNet Climate One vegetable seller in Mabola, a town near to the capital Colombo, says most of his customers can only afford to buy food in grams at the moment, rather than kilos, and often in quantities only enough “for one meal”. With a significant portion of the rice harvest destroyed, Sri Lankans are now worrying their staple food will also rise in price. This will undoubtedly put more pressure on the economy and could push up inflation to double digits.

Longer term, farmers are worried they may not have seen the last of such extreme weather, as experts warn countries will increasingly face unpredictable weather patterns. The eastern district of Batticaloa saw over 300 mm of rain within 24 hours, the highest amount of rainfall recorded in nearly 100 years. People in this region now fear this kind of flooding may not be an isolated event. After seeing his harvest destroyed and the village bridge washed away, Pallegedera Heenbanda asks “will this happen again?” (Reuters AlertNet Climate) 

By Laurinda Luffman for SOS Children