Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: Food convoys to continue despite rains - UN

News and Press Release
Originally published
COLOMBO, 24 October 2008 (IRIN) - Weekly food convoys run by the UN and government for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in areas held by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam forces in the north will continue, despite the monsoon rains, UN officials in Colombo said.

The third convoy since the relocation of UN and other international agencies from Tiger-held areas, known as the Vanni, on 16 September was expected to travel on 24 October, UN spokesman Gordon Weiss told IRIN. The agencies relocated following a government directive amid deteriorating security in the Vanni.

Since 3 October, at least 101 UN supply trucks, in addition to government supplies, have reached the Vanni. The weekly UN convoy carries approximately 750 metric tonnes of supplies.

"The food distribution system, supported by the Government Agents in the Vanni, is working well," Weiss said, "and indications are that supplies are reaching IDPs [internally displaced people] even in the remote villages [in the Vanni]."

Delivery problems

Heavy rains in the Vanni in the past two weeks have caused delivery problems and heightened the need to provide shelter material for the estimated 230,000 IDPs there, UN and government officials told IRIN.

"The roads used by the food convoys need some repair," Imalda Sukumar, the Government Agent for the Mulaithivu District, where more than 155,000 people (about 39,000 families) are displaced, told IRIN. "We have received funds to repair the road from the government and we will start work soon."

She said that Rs30 million (about US$300,000) had been allocated for the repair work, of which half was to be released immediately. The convoys can no longer use the A9 highway, the best road into the Vanni, due to fighting, but instead must take a north-eastern route from Puliyankulam, about 15km north of the Omanthai crossover point that separates the Vanni from government-controlled areas.

"It is not an easy journey, especially when you have 50 heavy vehicles loaded with supplies travelling during the rains," Weiss told IRIN. The last UN convoy was delayed by more than two hours when two trucks became stuck in deep potholes.

The rains have also raised concerns over shelter for IDPs, Weiss said. According to UN assessments, thousands of families are in temporary shelters on paddy lands, which are prone to flooding.

"With rains, there is the need to supply shelter material and we are now looking into transporting them," Weiss said.

Health hazards

Sukumar told IRIN that despite most IDPs staying in low-lying areas, no significant flooding of IDP sites had been reported.

"There is, however, a health risk. Most of these people are living in the open without proper toilet facilities," she said. "With the rains there is the threat of water-borne diseases, especially among the children."

Weiss said cases of diarrhoea had been reported among the IDPs. "There have been some reports of incidents of diarrhoea, and there is a need to get oral rehydration salt treatments to the IDPs."

Weiss told IRIN that "food remains our number-one priority at the moment, followed by shelter and sanitation supplies".

He also highlighted the importance of making sure convoys kept to a regular schedule to be able to maintain enough trucking capacity to address the basic needs of the displaced population.