Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: ICRC to distribute Indian aid to Vanni IDPs

News and Press Release
Originally published
COLOMBO, 18 November 2008 (IRIN) - A consignment of relief supplies from the government of India destined for tens of thousands of displaced persons in areas under the control of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the island's north arrived in Sri Lanka on 15 November, Indian diplomats in Colombo said.

Dinker Asthana, the spokesperson for the Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka, told IRIN: "It is a fairly large consignment and we expect to clear customs formalities in the next few days."

The Sri Lankan government said in a statement that 1,700 metric tonnes of supplies had arrived in more than 100 containers. The supplies, including food, clothes, hygiene and sanitary materials, will be handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), to be distributed among internally displaced persons (IDPs) in north-central areas, known as the Vanni, controlled by the Tamil Tigers.

More than 230,000 IDPs remain in the Vanni, according to UN statistics. While the US, European Union, Japan, Norway and other donor countries have been providing assistance through the UN and humanitarian agencies, India has been supplying aid directly, a legacy of protests in Tamil Nadu over the plight of Tamils displaced in the Vanni.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has transported more than 2,500 MT of food supplies into the Vanni in five convoys since 3 October. The ICRC, however, remains the only agency with a permanent presence in the Vanni after the relocation of the UN and international agencies in mid-September, when a government directive was issued regarding the deteriorating security.

"We have seen the relief items and they do indeed correspond to the needs of the displaced people we see in the Vanni. We look forward to receiving this relief consignment," Paul Castella, the ICRC's new head of delegation in Sri Lanka, said in the agency's monthly bulletin on 14 November.

Disease fears

The ICRC said that while food, water and sanitation remained the priority needs of the displaced in the Vanni, the recent monsoon rains had increased the need for shelter. The ICRC had provided shelter for the IDPs as well as sheltered health facilities.

The bulletin stated that 15 cases of malaria had been reported among the IDPs in October and authorities remain alert for possible additional disease outbreaks. UN humanitarian reports from the Vanni also warned of an increased risk of water-borne diseases with the rains.

"Thousands of IDPs are without adequate shelter and open defecation is widespread due to the lack of toilet facilities," the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) stated in its latest situation report released on 12 November. "The Regional Director of Health Services for Kilinochchi [District in the Vanni] has expressed concern at the likelihood of outbreaks of waterborne disease unless conditions are improved, particularly now with the resumption of seasonal monsoon rains."

Fighting has intensified in the region in the past week. The government regained control on 15 November of the strategic town of Pooneryn in the northern Vanni after a lapse of 15 years. The Sri Lankan Defence Ministry said heavy fighting between government forces and the Tigers had been reported at several locations in the Vanni in recent days.