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SRI LANKA: Church leaders draw attention malnutrition

SRI LANKA: Church leaders draw attention to the problem of malnutrition

Following is an extract from the Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Sri Lanka, entitled 'Towards Reconciliation and Rebuilding of the Nation'.

Even though exact statistics may vary and may be disputed, malnutrition does exist in Sri Lanka. There are many families who just cannot manage even one proper meal a day. And among the working classes there are many who are unable to ensure decent living standards for their families. The living conditions especially of the plantation workers and the fishermen need to be improved and urgent attention should be given to this. Trade Union action has been at times put down ruthlessly and since most of the Unions are politically controlled the workers have remained subservient to their political masters and muted in spite of the many difficulties they have to wade through. Among special categories of such workers are those in the Economic Processing or Free Trade Zones and the Estate workers. The status of the fishermen and the daily paid labourers is even more difficult. Poverty also has made hundreds and thousands of our people to seek better prospects overseas and most of these engage in menial jobs. Sadly such categories of workers are increasingly subjected to inhuman treatment and exploitation by their foreign masters. This has become a new form of slavery. The Government should through negotiations with such foreign Governments ensure that the sons and daughters of Mother Lanka are treated with dignity whatever their work be and that job agencies, local and foreign, are monitored to prevent them exploiting our workers for measly profit.

Poverty also seems to strike those who do white collar jobs. Many of these families find it difficult to make ends meet each month on their salary day. The gap between the rich and the poor tends to widen in this scenario in the pursuance of the actual economic policies.

Besides, the choice to move ahead rather ambitiously in the areas of tourism and of the modernization of industries as well as certain mega development projects like the construction or expansion of airports, harbours and projects connected with urbanization and infrastructure is commendable indeed. Yet, these should not hurt and disturb or cause large scale displacement of people out of their areas and their means of employment or damage to the environment. We are particularly concerned about the situation facing our fishermen, especially those who have been engaged in this activity over many decades in the Islands off Kalpitiya. The drive to provide greater facilities in this area for tourism is causing much consternation among them. Their concerns too should be attended to.

The different systems tried out in the past by different Governments to help the poor and those in real need have all been failures due to the fact that such help has been heavily politicised. Schemes such as Jana Saviya and Samurdhi have been, by and large, run by politically motivated administrations and have, often enough, ended up in discriminatory practices and have not been able to cushion the ill effects of the economic, free for all, on the poor. The latest of these, the Divi Naguma scheme too runs the risk of being an instrument of the present Government for its own political posturing. The Government should strive to help the poorer sector of the country without any discrimination by protecting them from the ill effects of the open market system which often protects only "the haves". This latest scheme should preferably be totally freed from political interference.


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