As Sri Lanka experiences the worst drought for 40 years, with almost 1 million people affected, WFP is working tirelessly with partners to mitigate the suffering. Collaboration is key to helping the most vulnerable people in the hardest-hit drought areas.
For Brenda Barton, WFP Country Director in Sri Lanka, collaboration is also key to building the long-term resilience of communities and supporting the sustainable development of Sri Lanka. Brenda has been working with a range of partners to shape the Country Strategic Review which will help Sri Lanka accelerate the pace towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 2 on ending hunger.
“WFP is one of the first UN agencies to align with the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda,” Brenda explains. “Our new corporate Strategic Plan focuses on ending world hunger and revitalizing partnerships with national governments, donor governments, the private sector and others to achieve the SDGs, in particular SDG 2 and SDG 17. What we are discovering about opportunities through local collaboration in Sri Lanka is very exciting.”
“The powerful voice of civil society was heard throughout the strategic review process, and WFP and the other partners have all learned a lot from this unique process which brought multiple entities together to focus on SDG2,’’ Brenda notes. “No one organization has all the answers, but when you bring together different experts and leaders, you can make headway.”
Brenda points to Dr. Sanath Mahawithanage, who led the civil society group that offered a ‘unique understanding of local vulnerabilities and needs and whose access and trust at community-level played a crucial role in ensuring a successful and relevant strategic review.’
Sanath is an academic with a doctorate in Human Nutrition, a diploma and a post graduate diploma in Diplomacy and World Affairs, and he has been awarded the Presidential Award for Scientific Communication. He also has extensive experience working in the private sector and for the United Nations. However, his role in the strategic review was to lead the civil society group, representing Sarvodaya, one of Sri Lanka’s most broadly embedded community-based development organizations.
Rooted in ancient Sri Lankan traditions, Sarvodaya’s philosophy is based on the teachings of Buddhism and celebrates the involvement of Sri Lanka’s monks and other religious leaders, who play an active role in village life.
“The strategic review in Sri Lanka was a really positive exercise because it proved that government, private sector, UN agencies, academia and civil society can work together,’’ Sanath says.
As the lead of the civil society pillar, Sanath brought together a diverse group of civil society representatives, community activists, local community-based organizations, faith-based organizations and international NGOs such as Oxfam, Save the Children, World Vision, ZOA international, Plan International and various religious groups working at grass roots level. These stakeholders were selected for their knowledge of food security and nutrition issues. However, the outreach went further. “Through surveys and community consultations we got feedback from villagers to headmasters,” says Sanath.
He also highlights that the review process demonstrated how each of these groups has a different but important role to play in this ‘whole of society’ approach to achieving zero hunger.
“Faith-based organizations representing all the major religions in Sri Lanka were involved in the strategic review and they were happy to take joint ownership of the process,” Sanath emphasizes.
‘’Behavioral change is crucial for ending hunger in Sri Lanka and faith-based organizations can support positive behavioral change by including nutrition messages into religious textbooks and allocate dedicated time to this during prayer,’’ he adds.
The road to zero hunger
Sri Lanka graduated to lower middle-income country status in 2010 but economic growth has not yet reached the entire population. Poverty and disparity in levels of nutrition still affect parts of the population and Sri Lanka is currently experiencing the worst drought in decades with close to one million people affected across the country. The Global Hunger Index ranks Sri Lanka 84 out of 118 countries, while the Global Nutrition Report suggests that Sri Lanka is among the countries with the highest wasting prevalence in the world, ranking 128 out of 130.
The national strategic review was launched by the Government in September 2016, supported by the World Food Programme (WFP). It was led by the former President of Sri Lanka and current chair of the South Asia Policy & Research Institute, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, who quickly identified inclusivity as the most significant feature of this task. In order to ensure the participation of a wide range of stakeholders in the process, she formed an Action Group, which consisted of five pillars: 1) national, provincial and local government, 2) academia, 3) private sector, 4) civil society and NGOs, and 5) United Nations.
The findings of the review — presented in February 2017 — contribute to the national development planning. The results of the strategic review are also a central resource for the formulation of WFP Sri Lanka’s Country Strategic Plan (CSP), which will be presented to WFP’s Executive Board for approval in November 2017.