Agencies respond with emergency assistance to Sri Lanka

By agency reporter
January 31, 2009

Fighting has intensified between government troops and the ethnic separatist group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). An estimated 230,000 civilians are trapped by the fighting and being forced into an ever-shrinking corner in the north-east of the country without adequate access to food and shelter.

The UN says that hundreds of civilians have been killed in the past weeks, reports that are denied by the Government of Sri Lanka. The lack of access by media and independent monitors prevents verifications of these claims.

UK-based international development agency Christian Aid says it is deeply concerned about the fate of these civilians and urges all parties to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law, in particular the need to ensure the safety of civilians, to allow their free movement and to enhance access for humanitarian assistance.

Church and NGO groups are working in the areas worst affected by the fighting. Two organisations: Social Organisation Network for Development (SOND) and The Refugee Rehabilitation Organisation (TRRO) are doing relief and rehabilitation work in Jaffna.

In Vavuniya and Mannar OFERR-Ceylon has been working with people displaced by the tsunami of 2004 and is now focusing on those displaced by the fighting.

"The immediate humanitarian needs of the people who have already fled to the Vavuniya are food and medical care. The families who have come out have to be provided with cooked food as they do not even have the facilities to cook their own food. Though medical care is being provided to these families to a certain extent by the Vavuniya and Mannar hospitals, the patients need to be assisted to convalesce specially with nutritious food," says Ms. Sooriyakumari, President Of ERR Ceylon.

The Sri Lankan government plans to establish “welfare villages” for the displaced people with semi permanent structures including shelters, schools, health centres.

According to the Ministry of Resettlement and Disaster Relief, the government will assume the "full responsibility to provide the safety and all relief assistance including shelter, with the support from donor communities, UN agencies, international and local NGOs".

Commenting on the “welfare villages” Robin Greenwood, Christian Aid’s head of the Asia division says: "It is vital to protect civilians from immediate harm. But it is as important to ensure rights to a dignified life and a decent livelihood in the long run."

The conflict has so far killed an estimated 70,000 people, displaced thousands more and held back the island's social and economic development.

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