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Sri Lanka: clean water, sanitation and shelter for 125,000 displaced persons

15-05-2008 Operational Update

Latest report on ICRC activities in the field

Several thousand Sri Lankans displaced by armed conflict currently need help obtaining safe drinking water, adequate sanitation and housing. Some have been displaced by recent fighting, while others have been forced to flee their homes in northern and eastern Sri Lanka several times over the past two decades.

Since early 2007, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has enabled more than 125,000 people displaced within Sri Lanka – including those living with host communities – and returnees in Ampara, Batticaloa, Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mannar, Puthukkudiyrippu, Trincomalee and Vavuniya to procure clean drinking water, sanitation and shelter. In April alone, it provided this kind of assistance for over 2,000 people.

The ICRC has been helping displaced people and those who have returned to their homes after a period of displacement by cleaning and upgrading wells, repairing hand pumps and restoring water-distribution systems to working order. Many returnees have found their property damaged or destroyed by the conflict or wild animals. Since November 2007, the ICRC has helped 15,500 returnees in the eastern part of the country to rebuild or repair their houses and facilities such as toilets.

The ICRC has upgraded wells and toilets serving some 29,000 people in the Jaffna peninsula who have been displaced since the 1990s. In the Vanni (the four northern districts of Sri Lanka), it has carried out repair and maintenance work on wells and hand pumps relied upon by nearly 17,000 displaced people.

“Safe drinking water is essential to good health, and proper sanitary facilities promote good hygiene,” said Julie Pharand, the IC RC’s water and habitation coordinator in Sri Lanka. “People caught up in the armed conflict in Sri Lanka often do not have sufficient access to – or have to share – their water, sanitary facilities and housing.”

  Helping people obtain health-care services in Jaffna  

The ICRC is working with the Jaffna Teaching Hospital, the Jaffna Jaipur Centre for Disability Rehabilitation and the Jaffna Department of Social Services to determine the needs of children and adults suffering from various congenital or acquired conditions, including cerebral palsy and other neurological disorders. At a health clinic on 15 May, patients will be diagnosed and registered free of charge, and if necessary referred for treatment.

The ICRC provides the Jaffna Jaipur Centre for Disability Rehabilitation with financial support and with logistical help, supplies and equipment for the production of orthopaedic appliances. In addition, it provides the Centre with expertise in physiotherapy and orthoprosthetics and with support for the training of local staff.

Since October 2006, the ICRC has airlifted more than 1,600 patients out of Jaffna for treatment not available on the peninsula.

  Serving as a neutral intermediary at Omanthai crossing point  

ICRC staff are on hand six days a week at Omanthai crossing point to facilitate the smooth passage of vehicles and civilians between areas controlled by the government of Sri Lanka and those controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). In April, the ICRC ensured the safe passage through the crossing point of more than 3,500 vehicles and 37,000 civilians, including 150 ambulances and more than 625 patients crossing in both directions.

It also conveyed the remains of 56 fallen fighters from Kilinochchi, Mannar and Vavuniya through the crossing point. “When the Army, Police or LTTE provide us with details of the mortal remains of fighters, we relay this information to the other side,” said Jean-François Campagna, an ICRC delegate based in Vavuniya. “This usually includes the place of death, sex and tag number or description of the uniform of the fallen person. If the other party claims the remains, the ICRC offers to transfer them through Omanthai crossing point. This can only be done with the agreement of both parties and after the requisite legal formalities have been completed.” By conveying the remains of fighters across the front lines, the ICRC helps clarify what became of many people who might otherwise remain unaccounted for.

  Protection of civilians and of persons held in connection with the conflict  

The ICRC monitors violations of international humanitarian law affecting civilians throughout the country. It meets with the parties to the conflict to discuss the violations and to ask for concrete steps to be taken to put an end to them and to prevent them from recurring. It also meets with victims and with families who have reported missing or arrested relatives, extra-judicial killings or ill-treatment.

With the cooperation of both the government and the LTTE, the ICRC visits persons arrested for security reasons. The aim of the visits is to monitor treatment and conditions of detention. In April, ICRC delegates met with over 700 detainees on nearly 60 visits to 42 places of detention. The detainees were provided with recreational items, clothing and toiletries.

The organization also provided financial support e nabling the families of almost 360 detainees to visit their loved ones in various places of detention. More than 20 released detainees received funds to return home on public transport.

  Restoring family links  

Together with the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society, the ICRC helps members of families separated by the conflict keep in touch through the Red Cross message service. In April, close to 670 messages were hand delivered by Red Cross staff.

For further information, please contact:
  Carla Haddad, ICRC Geneva, tel. +41 22 730 24 05 or +41 79 217 32 26
  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 +94 773 158 44


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