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Sri Lanka: ICRC steps up aid effort for displaced people in the Vanni

09-09-2008 Operational Update

Latest report on ICRC activities in the field

The displacement of civilians in the Vanni – in parts of Killinochi, Mullaitivu and Vavuniya districts under the control of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) – continued in August as tens of thousands of people fled intensifying fighting between government forces and the LTTE. Both residents and those already displaced moved towards Kilinochchi town and Mulaitivu district, seeking refuge in schools, with relatives and in dedicated sites.

Clean water and sanitation were the most pressing needs of the displaced. Local authorities also expressed concern about there not being enough shelter available. " The ICRC has stepped up activities in the Vanni to meet the needs of the displaced, " said Toon Vandenhove, the organization's head of delegation in Sri Lanka. " Although we have been able to help a significant number of people who had to flee their homes, we are concerned about those who have already had to move several times because of the fighting. Not all have received humanitarian assistance. "

Working closely with the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society, in the month of August, the ICRC distributed relief items – including nearly 14,000 family hygiene kits, over 4,700 baby-care parcels, 2,100 mosquito nets and 2,750 emergency household kits containing bed linen, towels and sleeping mats – to nearly 78,000 displaced persons in the Vanni. Among the recipients of these items were 12,000 individuals who also received tarpaulins and construction materials such as cadjan (palm thatch), timber frames and doors for building temporary shelters. Since the hostilities escalated at the beginning of July, more than 84,000 displaced persons received a combination of hygiene items and househo ld essentials, including almost 12,000 persons who could access clean water thanks to the ICRC.

While there have so far been no reports of significant or large-scale health problems, the authorities remain on the alert for outbreaks of diarrhoea, malaria and other diseases. The health situation will have to be monitored closely, especially with the monsoon rains fast approaching.

Health-care facilities in the Vanni continue to operate, albeit in ever more difficult circumstances. The Kilinochchi District General Hospital has been receiving increasing numbers of patients as other facilities have had to either reduce their operations or relocate alongside the displaced.

" The ICRC calls on both parties to the conflict to do their utmost to spare civilians the effects of ongoing hostilities. We are committed to staying close to those in need of humanitarian aid and to meeting their most urgent needs regardless of whether they seek refuge in government or LTTE-controlled areas, " said Mr Vandenhove.

The ICRC's relief operation in the Vanni has been financed out of the organization’s 2008 budget for Sri Lanka of 27 million US dollars.

Omanthai crossing point  

Acting as a neutral intermediary, the ICRC is present at Omanthai crossing point six days a week to facilitate the passage of civilians and their vehicles between government-controlled and LTTE-held areas. In August, it facilitated the passage of nearly 16,650 civilians and 2,500 vehicles. Over 100 ambulances, carrying almost 680 patients, made the crossing during the same period. ICRC staff transported 62 bodies of fallen fighters across Omanthai crossing during the month of August.

Protecting civilians and persons held in connection with the conflict  

The ICRC continues to monitor violations of international humanitarian law affecting civilians throughout the country. In August, nearly 1,750 persons contacted the organization with allegations concerning missing persons, arbitrary arrests, and unlawful killings or ill-treatment of civilians committed by weapon bearers. In order not to endanger the people reporting such violations, ICRC staff discussed them with the parties to the conflict in full confidentiality.

With the approval of government officials and the LTTE, the ICRC visited a growing number of people arrested in connection with the armed conflict to monitor their treatment and conditions of detention. In August, ICRC delegates carried out almost 50 visits to 35 government-run places of detention, during which they spoke in private with 675 security detainees. The families of more than 420 detainees received transport costs to visit their relatives.

During the same period, delegates also met in private with five security detainees held by the LTTE to deliver family parcels and messages consisting of family news.

Restoring family links  

The ICRC has been cooperating closely with the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society to help family members separated from one another to restore and maintain contact. In August, the ICRC collected and distributed more than 700 family messages.

In August, the ICRC also:   improved access to health care  
  •  Jaffna district: Almost 70 patients requiring specialized medical care, accompanied by 54 caregivers, were transported on ICRC-chartered flights between Jaffna and Colombo. Nearly 70 patients benefited from the services of the ICRC-supported Jaffna Jaipur Centre for Disability Rehabilitation.

assisted displaced people and returnees  
  •  Vavuniya district: Nearly 1,000   displaced people received various relief items including baby-care parcels, personal hygiene kits, tarpaulins, mosquito nets.

  •  Batticaloa district: The ICRC provided more than 4,300 returnees with food parcels and kitchen sets, and with hygiene and baby-care items. A further 610 returnees were given fishing gear and wood for building canoes.

  •  Trincomalee district: Over 14,000 returnees received baby-care items, food parcels, hygiene kits, tarpaulins, jerrycans and metal buckets. Fishing equipment was given to nearly 355 returnees to help them earn a living.

improved living conditions and access to water  
  •  Kilinochchi/Mullaitivu districts: A total of 122 displaced families received timber, cadjan and doors for building temporary shelters in Karachchi division. Sixty-six shelters were built and almost 80 emergency temporary shelters were set up for displaced people in the division. The ICRC distributed nearly 60 shelter structures in Maritimepattu, Kandavalai and Putukudyirruppu Divisions. Eighty-two wells and 10 hand pumps were repaired in the Karachchi, Kandavalai, Maritimepattu and Oddusuddan divisions. Seven toilets were built in Karachchi division.

  •  Vavuniya district: In preparation for the rainy season, the roofs on 17 shelters at the Sirukandal site for displaced people were reinforced, while two 2,000-litre water tanks were installed at Sirukandal and also at the Kalimoddai site for the displaced. The male ward in the Cheddikulam hospital was being renovated.

  •  Trincomalee district: The ICRC built 47 shelters for returnees in Srinivasapuram and distributed 120 bags of cement to 40 families to cement the floors in their shelters. Seven wells were repaired and cleaned in Iththikulam, Thanga Nagar and Seenavelly, while three wells were under construction in Sumedankarapura. Three toilets were being repaired and cleaned in Neenakkerny for returnees.

enhanced respect for international humanitarian law  
  • As part of its efforts to increase respect for international humanitarian law, the ICRC conducted 36 information sessions about the law for more than 1,300 people, including civilians and members of the government security forces.

provided support for the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society  
  • The ICRC provided support for the Sri Lanka Red Cross night ambulance service in Vavuniya and Jaffna districts, which transfers emergency cases to the hospital during curfews. The ICRC also provided training in first aid and community health, including water and sanitation work, for nearly 140 volunteers from the local Sri Lanka Red Cross chapter in Vavuniya.

For further information, please contact:
  Carla Haddad, ICRC Geneva, tel +41 22 730 2405 or +41 79 217 3226
  Aleksandra Matijevic, ICRC Colombo. tel +94 11 250 33 46 or + 94 777 289 682
  Sarasi Wijeratne, ICRC Colombo, tel + 94 11 250 33 46 or + 94 773 1588 44


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