Sri Lanka issued an urgent appeal on Monday to tackle rapidly spreading malnutrition among children as its economic crisis leaves nine out of 10 people dependent on state hand-outs.
The ministry for women and child affairs said they were seeking private donations to feed perhaps several hundred thousand children suffering the effects of not having enough to eat, AFP reported..
The bankrupt state, grappling with Sri Lanka's worst economic crisis since independence, was unable to sustain welfare programmes.
"When the Covid pandemic was at its peak, the problem was bad, but now, with the economic crisis, the situation is far worse," ministry secretary Neil Bandara Hapuhinne said in Colombo.
Mr Hapuhinne said they had counted 127,000 malnourished children among the 570,000 girls and boys below the age of five in mid-2021.
Since then, he estimated that the numbers had increased several-fold with the full effect of rampant inflation and extreme shortages of food and other essentials.
He said the number of people receiving direct state hand-outs had almost doubled in the past year with more than 90 per cent of the population now relying on the government for financial help.
Hapuhinne said these included about 1.6 million government employees.
Sri Lanka's inflation was officially measured at 60.8 per cent in July, but private economists say it is well over 100 per cent and second only to Zimbabwe.
Unicef also issued an appeal for funding, saying that children in Sri Lanka were disproportionately affected by the economic crisis.
The country ran out of foreign exchange to finance even essential imports late last year and Colombo defaulted on its $51 billion foreign debt in mid-April.
Under embattled new President Ranil Wickremesinghe, the government is now in bail-out talks with the International Monetary Fund.
The country's 22 million people endure lengthy daily power cuts, long queues for fuel and shortages of staple foods and medicines in a country that once had South Asia's best social indicators.
Last month, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country and quit after thousands of protesters angry at the economic crisis stormed his official residence.