Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: EHA News Update April and May 2007

News and Press Release
Originally published
In May, the Sri Lankan government has initiated a process of voluntary returns of Internally Displaced People (IDP) to their place of origin. An expected 90,000 IDPs are to return by the end of 2007. By 18 May, in Batticaloa, about 9,000 had returned to Western Batticaloa dispersed throughout 20 villages. UNHCR monitored the return. Within another few weeks, 40,000 IDPs are expected to return to the west. In total there are over 100 villages in the return area, but for the time being, only 20 are being resettled. In these areas, food, shelter, water and sanitation and psychosocial issues have been examined. The identified gaps will be addressed by various sector agencies. WHO will make a detailed assessment of the health status and the access to health care of the returnees.

To address persistent problems of inadequate numbers of health care providers and absence of emergency medical services, two initiatives are underway. A proposal has been prepared to recruit UNV (United Nations Volunteers) physicians to temporarily fill the gaps. At the same time, with the support of the WHO regional office of South East Asia, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has been requested to select three candidates from appropriate backgrounds to participate in a Training Programme on Pre-Hospital Care organized by the Trauma and Critical Care Center (WHO Collaborating Centre on Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion) in Bangkok in late August. WHO hopes to build on this to help put in place an Emergency Medical Services system, particularly in the north east where the conflict remains volatile.

WHO has chaired bi-weekly Health Coordination Meetings focusing on the IDPs and a number of problems facing the returnees have been reviewed based on extensive visits to official IDP site and returnee settlements in Vakarai in the middle of May.


Colombo, the capital city of Sri Lanka, was hit by flooding on the 3 and 4 May 2007, caused by torrential downpours. A massive 156 mm of rain fell on the morning of 4 of May alone. The city of Galle, 110 km south of the capital, was also affected.

A large sinkhole also suddenly appeared on the morning of Friday 4 May in Galle Road, the main road running from Colombo to Galle. No casualties were reported from this unusual incident. Overall, according to figures collated by the Ministry of Disaster Management, there were 17 deaths. Causes of death ranged from drowning (up to 12 people), suffocation in landslides (2 children, 1 adult) and electrocution by fallen power lines or lightning (at least 2 people).

The floods that were witnessed in early May are not an isolated occurrence. Almost every year, Colombo's antiquated drainage system (more than 150 years old in some parts) gets blocked and overflows onto the streets. Apart from this, there are many other contributing factors to the flooding such inadequate waste management; inadequate funds for the proper maintenance and dredging of the drains; and unauthorised construction of houses, especially those that encroach on the marshland that act as catchments areas for storm-water drainage.