India + 1 more

Humanitarian aid for the internally displaced people of Sri Lanka and for the Tamil refugees living in Tamil Nadu, India

Location of operation: SOUTH ASIA
Amount of decision: 5,500,000 euro
Decision reference number: ECHO/-SA/BUD/2004/01000

Explanatory Memorandum

1 - Rationale, needs and target population:

1.1. - Rationale:

Sri Lanka is a densely populated island nation of 19.6 million people located off the southeastern tip of India. It is a lower middle-income country with a per capita income of about €650. The incidence of poverty has been reduced over the past four decades, but 25% of the population still subsist below the poverty line. The indicators for the population in the North and East of the island are substantially worse(1).

Development has been impeded by hostilities between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils. A conflict waged by Tamil separatists(2) in the country's northern and eastern region between 1983 and February 2002 has exacted a heavy toll on the economy, claiming over 65,000 human lives.

Up to 800,000 people have been internally displaced at any given time. The population was displaced both within the Jaffna peninsula and southwards to the Vanni region. In subsequent years, the conflict has moved steadily further towards the South, leading to massive new displacements of people within the whole Vanni region.

The conflict has also led to the exodus of over 100,000 Sri Lankan Tamils to Tamil Nadu in the southeastern part of India. India is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol. Apart from the special agreement UNHCR has obtained with the Indian authorities to undertake the verification of the voluntary nature of repatriation requests and to provide logistical support to persons wishing to return to Sri Lanka, UNHCR has no mandate to provide emergency assistance to the 60,000 refugees located in 102 camps and has no access to these camps.

The ceasefire of 22 February 2002 allows the northern and eastern districts of the country to experience the longest period of absence of fighting since 1983. The international monitoring mission chaired by a Norwegian representative and composed of members of Nordic countries(3) continues to supervise the respect of the ceasefire by both parties. Additionally, the donors support meeting on humanitarian aid held in Oslo in November 2002 consolidated these new steps towards peace, and the development donor conference in Tokyo in June 2003 resulted in pledges amounting to €4,5 billion.

However, since April 2003, the political situation has deteriorated when the LTTE decided to temporarily withdraw from the direct negotiations between the parties. In November 2003, the President decided to fire three key ministers, including the defence and interior ministers. Norway has subsequently decided to step down from its facilitator role until the constitutional crisis between the President and the Prime Minister is resolved. These events, combined with a new alliance between the President's party and a pro-war party, and the general elections foreseen for 2 April 2004 after the President dissolved the Parliament early February render the political situation very unstable. The immediate future is most unpredictable and there is concern that development assistance may be delayed due to uncertainties in the political situation.

Many Internally Displaced People (IDPs) have taken advantage of the ceasefire to return to their land. Of an estimated 740,000 IDPs living inside and outside "welfare centres"(4) before the ceasefire, 345,000 IDPs returned to their areas of origin between January 2002 and December 2003, i.e. 269,000 in 2002 and 76,000 in 2003(5). The bulk of these returnees came back between June and October 2002. The trend continued on a lower scale, i.e. about 12,000 returnees per month, between November 2002 and March 2003. Since then, the figure has dropped to 4,500 returnees per month. The figure of returning IDPs for November 2003 was 2,800. A reliable forecast for 2004 put this figure at a maximum of around 35,000 people should this "no peace-no war" situation remain.

Jaffna peninsula received 51% of the returning IDPs. The other main area of return is the Vanni (Vavuniya, Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi districts) with 37,5%. Trincomalee and Batticaloa districts in the East (4,9%) and Mannar district in the west (4,4%) experienced returns on a more limited scale.

The number of refugees living in camps in India is now around 62,000. About 4,000 of these refugees have returned since the ceasefire, ¾ of them spontaneously. Contrary to the IDPs, the refugee return rate is only now gaining momentum: 3,000 refugees returned in 2003 against 1,000 in 2002. The Government of Sri Lanka and the Government of India informed the refugees that they will organise a massive repatriation once the political picture becomes clearer. However, it seems that a significant proportion of them are now ready to return to Sri Lanka, despite the absence of peace. Their main concerns relate to the mines issue and access to the government financial scheme set up for returnees. However, the political context will still be a significant factor for many refugees and some will not return until peace is well embedded. Reasonable estimates put the figure of returning refugees at up to 10,000 in 2004, most of them going back to Jaffna and Mannar districts.

1.2. - Identified needs:

Immediate needs for non-food items, shelters, water and sanitation and food security:

The movement of return is expected to continue in 2004 but on a more limited scale. Those who could not resettle these last two years because of the lack of confidence in the peace process, the absence of land due to the existence of restricted areas that are now reducing little by little, and the presence of mines, will probably return this year. It is expected that a certain portion of the IDPs living in "welfare centres" are unlikely to be able or willing to return to their places of origin due to a number of reasons such as their ethnic background, no land ownership, or vulnerabilities like physical handicaps and elderliness. Another deterrent for returns is IDPs who have become urbanized and are therefore reluctant to restart rurally giving up their businesses or schooling opportunities for their children.

This concerns primarily IDPs but the number of spontaneous returns of refugees from Tamil Nadu should increase compared to the last two years.

The danger posed by mines is being addressed at the moment but the conflict-affected areas remain heavily mined. 1,100 people have been affected and 158 killed by mines and UXOs since 1995. 55% of these incidents took place in Jaffna peninsula. The number of incidents immediately after the ceasefire was reported to be 15 to 20 per month. This figure has now dropped to 4 to 7 per month(6). These incidents, while still too high, reflect the success of emergency mine action in Sri Lanka which has prevented an increase in casualties resulting from the increased number of returnees(7).

However the villages of return for the IDPs have been affected by the war and suffer from damaged infrastructures including houses, schools, health centres, latrines in suburban areas, wells and irrigation systems, particularly in LTTE-controlled areas where bans and restrictions by the government severely affected development. The rainwater collecting tanks have been neglected for many years and need immediate repairs in order to supply water for agricultural purposes.

Many of the spontaneous returnees have been living in camps for years and their houses and village infrastructure have been badly damaged or destroyed by the conflict. They lack shelters, but also basic household items so that they can immediately and properly resettle their activities. Also many changed the locations several times to escape from the areas of fighting.

Access to safe drinking water remains a problem. The relatively low supply of safe drinking water necessarily impacts upon the health status of those living in the area. The destruction of both wells and latrines during the war created a situation of deplorable hygiene conditions and practices. Furthermore the lack of water facilities can be a deterrent to the resettlement of displaced villagers. In particular the situation is more difficult in "uncleared areas", where the environment is particularly poor due to lack of opportunities of livelihood restoration in the most remote areas, with very difficult access.

It is estimated that approximately 70 % of the spontaneous returnees in Vavunya, Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi districts are farmers, while in Jaffna 45 % are farmers and in Trincomalee and Mannar, this percentage borders 55 %. Up to 25% of returnees are landless farm labourers in Kilinochchi and Mullativu(8). The economy in these districts depends mainly on agriculture and fishing. Fishing is the second largest occupation in the North and East of the country. In Kilinochchi about 10% of the people are engaged in fishing and this increases to 15% in Mullaitivu. On the East Coast, the percentage goes up to 20%. As these areas are largely food insecure, families arriving without capital and deprived of means for being self sufficient will meet with great difficulties in managing their resettlement. With the process of return continuing, a larger destitute population may constitute a threat to food security not only for themselves but also for the rest of the population. Therefore it is essential to avoid the risk that families who are spontaneously returning become more marginalised in an already critically vulnerable social and economic environment.

A major problem encountered by returnees is access to land for cultivation which, when it is available, may be impaired by the presence of landmines and by jungle invasion. The land needs to be cleared of shrubs and grass prior to replanting. To accomplish this land clearing and to obtain a good first crop, returnees will need a basic kit of agricultural inputs, including seed, fertilizer, herbicide and tools. Seedlings of high quality fruit trees including coconut, mango, guava, banana, lime and papaya will also be needed to re-establish former plantations.

Most of the returnees living in camps do not have employment opportunities, thus have lost their skills, as farmers, fishermen or as artisans.

Returnees also have insufficient and irregular income. They have lost their assets during displacement. They engage, when possible, in daily labour activities such as fishing, paddy or vegetable cultivation, firewood collection, etc. Their situation is extremely precarious, as host villages may not have the capacity to provide this type of work to additional families. Skilled labourers (home gardeners, masons, carpenters, blacksmiths, etc.) and fishermen lack the initial tools or capital and the training to develop their activities.

Finally in some former areas of heavy fighting, like in Jaffna-Chavachchri, a lot of women, returnees or residents, are war widows. Without access to land, the only activities they can manage are craft activities and poultry rearing, but the most vulnerable of them cannot afford to get the first inputs.

Shelter and water and sanitation in "welfare centres":

390,000 people still remain displaced. Among them, about 93,000 persons are living in "welfare centres" run by the government with some support from WFP, UNHCR and GTZ. These camps are scattered around the conflict-affected areas and in the bordering districts like Anuradhapura and Puttalam. The main locations of these centres are in Puttalam (35,000 persons), Jaffna and Kilinochchi (10,000 each), Vavunya (9,000) and Mannar (8,000). WFP is gradually phasing out of relief rations in the camps and is concentrating its support on a supplementary feeding programme for lactating and pregnant women and children (79,000 beneficiaries in 2003). UNHCR provides limited funding (€160,000 per year) to repair roofing of the shelters. In January this year, an ECHO mission visited the "welfare centre" of Vavuvnya where about 9,000 IDPs are living in deplorable conditions, in warehouses where promiscuity is the rule, and where safe drinking water is badly needed. Many extremely vulnerable individuals are living in this camp: old and disabled people, Indian Tamils who used to work in the tea plantations of the south, landless people and women-headed households. Their resettlement prospects are extremely limited and these particularly vulnerable people have received much less attention than returning IDPs. The overall situation in the "welfare centres" is of extreme vulnerability: no income, no relocation prospective for the future9, lack of hygiene, lack of water and sanitation, alcohol dependency, marginalisation of the numerous single-women headed households, violence on women, youths left without opportunity to learn a skill and earn a living.

Health care and nutritional support to 18,050 most vulnerable refugees in Tamil Nadu:

Concerning the Tamil refugees living in the camps in Tamil Nadu, India, ECHO is the only international donor supporting them at the moment. The government of Tamil Nadu is providing the refugees a small monthly allowance of INR 47910 for a family of four members, representing 25% of the cost of providing the minimum caloric needs for this family (9220 Kcal per day). The government also provides them with a certain quantity of rice at a subsidised price. Most of the refugees were hosted in "cadjan" sheds and in old cyclone shelters. Additionally, refugees can access local government health centres but many camps are located far away from these centres.

The same problem exists for access to the local schools.

ECHO support started in July 2002 and has produced results that need to be consolidated. There have been no newborn babies below 2.0 kg since April 2003 and the babies who fall in the 2.0-2.5 kg category have come down to 4% of the total. In the other end, the newborn babies above 2.5 kg seem to have stabilized on a level of 95%, which is a satisfactory result when compared to the corresponding figure of 67% for India as a whole. As for 0-5 year old children, the general trend is that children with normal weight have increased their share of the total by an average of 17,5 %. The overall improvement of this large group of children (7,000) does not meet the initial expectations as the normal weight children should make up at least 60% of the total by now, instead of 50%.

Through the project, ECHO was also able to maintain a database which provides all necessary information about the refugees, including their areas of origin, the conditions for their return, their original training etc. It has been an effective tool for registration and management of camp populations. Its primary purpose is to design a tool for the correct planning of refugee returns in a clustered and manageable manner while spin off benefits have also created legal documentation and recording of births, deaths and marriages. This information will be shared with the authorities in Tamil Nadu and with UNHCR which funded the setting-up of the database.


(1) Source: World Bank, Country Assistance Strategy, April 2003.

(2) Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

(3) Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission (SLMM).

(4) Welfare centres: 318 IDP camps in the conflict-affected areas and their bordering districts. They are managed by the Government.

(5) Source: UNHCR and Ministry of Rehabilitation, resettlement and refugees, February 2004.

(6 ) Source: Mine action media Campaign, December 2003.

(7) ECHO's contribution to mine action to date amounts to €5.3 million. The last decision (ECHO/LKA/210/2003/02000) for mine awareness, surveys and mapping, and humanitarian de-mining was approved in December 2003 and the operation will be implemented during 2004.

(8) Source: FAO, February 2003.