Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: Complex food distribution operation for displaced people in Batticaloa

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COLOMBO, 18 May 2007 (IRIN) - Distributing food rations to over 100,000 people displaced by conflict in eastern Sri Lanka is a logistical challenge. The World Food Programme (WFP) in early May was providing food rations to some 100,000 of the nearly 140,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) living in welfare camps and other sites in Sri Lanka's eastern Batticaloa district. About 10 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) provide food rations for the remaining IDPs.

The IDPs have come in waves over the last year, filling some 90 welfare sites and settling in with relatives and host families. First to arrive were nearly 40,000 IDPs fleeing conflict in Trincomalee district in 2006 and then 20,000-plus from Vaharai division in northern Batticaloa at the turn of the year. An additional 80,000 IDPs began arriving from Batticaloa West in early March when the government began a new offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) there. Some from Trincomalee and from Vaharai have since returned home. As of 14 May IDPs are beginning to return to Batticaloa West, so the overall IDP count for Batticaloa district is slowly beginning to drop.

WFP food reaching 70 percent of Batticaloa IDPs

WFP reports that food is distributed to some 70 per cent of all IDPs in the district of which about 46,000 live in welfare centres and some 54,000 with host families and relatives. The WFP food is distributed directly by the government, with transport and distribution assistance from the Sri Lankan Red Cross.

For the government and those NGOs involved in providing food rations, ensuring it gets to all those in need can be a logistical and bureaucratic nightmare - particularly because the IDP population is living in so many different locations. Some gaps in the delivery of food assistance inevitably occur. For example, WFP reported on 9 May a 12 percent gap in food assistance in the district, with some 13,000 IDPs not receiving food rations.

According to Mark Agoya of the WFP Batticaloa district office, "It is most likely a problem of IDPs who stay with host families not being registered." He said the government says it is moving quickly to resolve the problem.

Camp Sathurukkondan 3

IRIN recently witnessed a typical distribution of WFP food at a Batticaloa district welfare site - Camp Sathurukkondan 3 in Manmunai North, where 442 families (about 1,800 people) live. Long lines of camp residents lined up in the intense midday heat to receive their rations. The beneficiaries received food sufficient for a two week period. Forty-five Sri Lankan Red Cross volunteers along with local government authorities were helping with the day's distribution while WFP staff were monitoring. The rations consist of rice, flour, dahl, sugar, spices and cooking oil.

NGOs also distributing food

In addition to the WFP food rations, more than twelve other agencies and NGOs provide additional food items at various sites for IDP families. Aimed at boosting nutrition, the distributions by the different NGOs differ greatly in terms of items, quantity, targeted beneficiaries and the duration of distributions and are only available to some of the IDPs.

On the day of IRIN's visit, the Danish Red Cross (DRC) was providing additional food consisting of canned fish, spices, soya milk, garlic, high energy biscuits, tea, chilli powder and green grams.

"A while back there were problems in the distribution of the food rations," according to A. Nesalthurai, village head for Camp Sathurukkondan 3. "WFP was helping fewer families than now and the NGO coordination was not good." He added: "Now there are no serious problems for the IDPs or the host families."

Call for more vegetables, fish

At another site, Navatkerney, where food distribution was under way, the village head, A. E. Lawrence, said: "The most common complaint in Navatkerney is that the food provided is not enough: If it is a large family of six or eight, there may be a gap. These farming families are used to eating a lot." What the beneficiaries lack most are fresh vegetables, fish and other proteins, he said. "Every week we have been asking for more vegetables and fish."

S. Sejeelthar, a food aid monitor for WFP says, "Some IDPs will always say they are not getting enough food. But it is a huge population we are dealing with and there is bound to be frustration. As for food rations, we provide for the basic needs of the IDPs. That's 400 grams per person per day - 200 grams of rice and 200 of wheat flour. The food is getting where it is needed." he says, adding, "Every two weeks, we meet the government agents and the divisional secretaries and the food agencies to look at the gaps, and do our best to address the needs."

bj/cb/bp

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