23 September, 2023


A Man Borrows Two Papayas To Feed His Starving Children

By Basil Fernando

Basil Fernando

A man of about 50 years, walks to a vegetable shop in Savithripura, Anuradhapura, and in front of a few others who also have come to buy some vegetables, he asked the small shop owner whether he could borrow two raw papaya fruits from the shop owner’s garden, in order to feed his children who have been starving for two or three days. The surprised shop owner immediately obliged. It is one of the persons who was present that reported this matter.

Another lady in her 30s reported an incident which she has seen when she went to visit a neighbour’s house. The women of this house had made small rotis from 200 grams of flour since that was all she could manage to buy in terms of food for the day. She had given two of the small rotis to a young child and divided the balance roti to be shared between herself and her husband. Her husband is bedridden with serious kidney problems and under these circumstances, the family had no money to buy his medicines. These and several other stories were told by a group of persons from the area who were narrating what they themselves have been shocked to see in recent times.

Throughout the country, various groups including economists, persons from various political parties, and others are discussing the issue of the economic crisis faced by the country mainly due to the Dollar shortage, besides other reasons. There are many discussions in the media channels and talk shows where various kinds of discussions are being held on the impending crisis which is expected to make things much worse within a short time to come. Various kinds of discussions are also held about the possible solutions, for example, there are issues like whether to go to the International Monetary Fund to obtain a loan to deal with the present situation. Even Ministers sometimes join in, talking of the gravity of the situation.

However, what is not talked about publicly is the manner in which the people, particularly the lowest income groups, are coping up with the present situation. Their stories are not brought to the surface.

However, much more than abstract discussions on the issue of the economic crisis as well as the societal crises of every kind, what really will make the difference is by bringing the narratives of the actual circumstances of the manner in which the people cope up with their basic food necessities. Again, what is needed is not an abstract discussion on food availability or food security but a detailed account of how various families particularly within the lower income groups which constitute quite a larger part of the Sri Lankan population cope up with the food problems.

If these narratives are brought about, it is quite likely that some quick response could be made to alleviate this situation. We know from past experiences that such measures had been adopted and the acute forms of malnutrition had been brought down in Sri Lanka on several occasions.

One time when even the sending of children to schools became problematic due to the food problems faced by the children, there was the adoption of giving noon day meals for the children. Some politicians became even known popularly as Banis Mama – an uncle who gives bread, due to the advocacy of a policy of the alleviation of children’s hunger in order to encourage the children to come to schools.

In at least two other occasions, the Thriposha was manufactured and distributed particularly to women from lower income groups who were pregnant. According to reports, such measures proved adequate to prevent such ill effects of malnutrition such as the low weight of babies and also stunting.

It may not be a very attractive issue for journalists and media persons to interview those who are facing this kind of food issues and to report this to the public in a society where news often means reports about the political quarrels of political parties. The problems relating to the livelihood of the people, particularly, the problems of food and other basic necessities go unreported.

However, it is time that the actual situation of food security as experienced by the people be researched into by way of interviews and by other means and that these stories be told to the country as a whole.

While it may take a longer time to resolve the bigger problems relating to the economic crisis, the problems relating to the basic food needs, need to be addressed on an urgent basis. If the situation goes unnoticed, it is likely that under the growing crisis of the economy, there may be mass scale malnutrition and even starvation.

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Latest comments

  • 23

    Mr. Basil Fernando
    Your timely article should be an eye opener for the President.
    The two sad stories mentioned in your article more or less represent the predicament of over 60% of the people in the country.
    My heart is broken at the thought of imminent mass starvation.
    When there was food in abundance, the Sinhalese Buddhists had the habit of giving food for free on a mass scale.
    In Sri Lanka, approximately 80% of the household income is spent on food! How could people survive now without a penny to buy food?
    Food should be accessible and available to everyone in adequate quantities. The current food insecurity in Sri Lanka is man-made, or rather, president-made, who was not prepared for eventualities.

    • 14

      The Rajapaksa government has proposed a ‘jackfruit seed-package’ to overcome food insecurity. What is the point of granting money to people without price controls?
      The soaring prices of essential commodities are proof that the ‘jackfruit seed-package’ will only benefit the ‘mafia traders and distillery owners (including the three new)’ who have connections with the Rajapaksas.
      Instead of new monetary allowances, the government should divert 4/5 of its ‘jackfruit seed-package’ to the CWE to home-deliver bi-weekly packages of food/vegetables/essential items to the needy, based on the size of the household.
      The Grama Niladharis and the Divisional Secretariat could work together to issue coloured tokens for families to easily identify the size of the household. Eg. ‘Blue’ for a family of 2-3, ‘Yellow’ for a family of 4-5, ‘Red’ for a family of over 5 persons.
      To ease the logistical burdens, the CWE could direct local farmers/vendors to supply certain quantities of fresh vegetables+fruits in cardboard boxes or reusable baskets. Eg. A 10kg pack of mixed vegetables+fruits for ‘Yellow’ families for 2-weeks. As a consequence, the local growers, vendors and the needy will be benefitted from the ‘jackfruit seed-package’ instead of mafia traders and distillery owners.

      • 4

        “the government should divert 4/5 of its ‘jackfruit seed-package’ to the CWE to home-deliver bi-weekly packages of food/vegetables/essential items to the needy, based on the size of the household.”
        You are so simple-minded. Home-deliver to all households? Is the CWE to import 5 million delivery boys from China? And import Chinese food for them?
        Isn’t it easier to simply apply to join India / China / Bangladesh and ask them to solve the problem? Then we won’t have to pay back the loans either.

        • 0

          old codger
          The CWE has the capacity to do that. Otherwise, I wouldn’t suggest it.
          The Rajapaksas are getting ready for another bogus lockdown to suppress growing anger against them. Their sudden decision to open schools and government offices are signs of another lockdown. Earlier, they manipulated the number of deaths caused by Covid-19. When there were no Covid cases, they offered incentives to airlines and their racketeers brought down tourists from Covid hit countries. When compared to other countries, Sri Lanka wasn’t hit by the pandemic at all. Only a handful of people died of Covid-19 symptoms. All the other ‘Covid positive cases’ died of other illnesses, road accidents, suicides, murders, elephant attacks, etc.
          When there is a lockdown, people won’t be able to visit places like CWE. Besides, the Rajapaksas are planning to introduce mandatory vaccine cards to enter ‘public places’, which is another racket.

          • 1

            “When compared to other countries, Sri Lanka wasn’t hit by the pandemic at all. Only a handful of people died of Covid-19 “
            Perhaps you don’t know that during the last Covid wave, our death rate per million was higher than India’s ? The actual number is less because we have a small population.

        • 0

          Ensuring that food is available is necessary, but home delivery is going too far.
          The Rajapaksas have been allowed to steal so much that luxuries of this sort are out of the question.
          We’re all beginning to feel the pinch now. I’m not the worst off, by any means, and soon there will be many more starving.
          That 5K for pensioners is an allowance only, isn’t it? To be taken off as soon as the Provincial Council elections are over.
          However, some misgivings are misplaced. Proof of vaccination, for instance. If you have a smart phone scan the certificate, and have it ready for display. Those who have to check aren’t going to be unreasonable, if they realise that the evidence produced is credible. Masks are now insisted upon by citizens, not because the government wants them.

          • 0

            My Dear Iskolemahathayo,
            Please listen to what your beloved journalist has to say about our problems of the day.

            You will like it for sure.

    • 9

      “Your timely article should be an eye opener for the President.”
      He never open his eyes on solving the problem of people other than to release all the criminals who were in the prison for the crimes they committed to fulfil the wishes of the family.

  • 10

    Still Rajapakshas want to repay bond loans because these bonds are held by their cronies.

    Whole nation will be bankrupt on January 14 after repaying the ISB loan.

  • 8

    A timely article. I have experienced many occasions where innocent people silently continue to suffer with the basics. This “silence” is used as an excuse by those in government to not do anything about this. I recently encountered someone in a relatively new Prado jeep and it’s driver said its used by a committee member in a sub committee in the sports ministry! a 40mn+ LKR vehicle .. Imagine that. What have we achieved in sports? Look everywhere – from token queues to get a gas cylinder to desperate fathers crying and trying to sell simple books on the streets to feed their children (I have encountered one in the Battaramula area). Tolerance has a limit and we have reached that limit and continuing to be silent is certainly foolish.

  • 6

    What the politicians are looking for is money and votes. People will have to realize their responsibilities lies in choosing a new set of politicians under a new constitution. For the moment one will have help another to survive this crisis.

  • 5

    Anybody with over x square metres of unbuilt land or garden should be compelled to grow fruit trees and help should be given if the soil is unsuitable.

  • 12

    Some years ago a friend of mine (who won’t thank me for revealing his name) was standing at a bus stop in Bambalapitiya waiting for a bus. In the queue there was a poor tall thin Tamil man carrying a small boy. The child was quite ill and his head was lolling from side to side. The father was wiping spit and blood from the child’s lips. Just behind this bus stop there was a dispensary and surgery. My friend went in and reported the situation to the girl on Reception and asked whether the doctor could see the child. “No, no” said the girl smiling “That fellow is always there.” “But the child is very sick” remonstrated my friend. The girl smiled “No, can’t be helped, these people are always bothering us”.
    A very angry friend walked out of the dispensary only to find that both the Tamil man and his child had vanished. It turned out that the people in the bus queue had paid to send them to Kalubowila hospital in a three wheeler.
    Rejoining the queue my friend felt a tap on his shoulder, it was the girl from Reception “YOU wanted to see the doctor?” she asked.
    My friend later made some interesting observations. It is only the poor who will help the poor. Race
    did not come into it, this was just common humanity. If you wear trousers and speak English you will be treated better. So the relevance of all this to the article is that people cannot live on food alone, compassion is also required.

  • 0

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  • 5

    are the pajeros still going about?When i used to visit colombo i used to see a lot of pajeros and fancy vehicicles which gave the impression of a very rich country,until you walked the streets and saw the emaciapated skin and bones people on the streets.Any way the pajero people will just say karma.

  • 2

    The Rajapaksas have failed the people who voted for them. They have failed this country. People are now desperate and starving, while they are living a life of luxury, driving their posh cars, and eating at top hotels using ill gotten gains. The Rajapaksa regime are playing dangerous games, and flirting with nations that do not have our best interests at heart. Time for this crooked family to share those ill gotten gains from their off shore accounts, and feed the starving people.

    Mary Antoinette Rajapaksa keeps saying “let them eat roti”.

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