Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: ICRC distributes aid in the Vanni, assists Jaffna flood victims

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In the wake of renewed fighting in the Vanni region and severe flooding in and around Jaffna, the ICRC has been distributing aid, restoring clean water supplies and pressing ahead with its other activities for conflict victims.

Humanitarian aid donated by the Indian government reaches Vanni civilians

Displaced families in the Vanni region, which has been the scene of recent fighting, have begun receiving relief goods provided by the Indian government. The donation of 80,000 family parcels containing assorted food, hygiene items, bedding and clothing was handed over to the ICRC on 20 November. The food and hygiene items were distributed to nearly 40,000 displaced families in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts during the first weeks of December. The beneficiaries will receive the bedding and clothing in the coming days. Many families have been displaced several times by the fighting over recent months and are therefore in urgent need of help.

ICRC assists thousands displaced by floods

Thousands of people were affected by the hurricane and torrential rains that swept through Sri Lanka at the end of November. The district that was worst hit was Jaffna, where heavy rains caused flooding, disrupted access to clean water and damaged sewage systems.

At the request of the Jaffna authorities, the ICRC installed two water pumps and five tanks for storing clean water in the Jaffna Teaching Hospital. The ICRC also donated 14 barrels of chlorine to the Regional Health Service and Water Board for purification of contaminated water systems.

"We were concerned about a possible outbreak of water-borne disease," said Elena Ajmone Sessera, an ICRC representative in Jaffna. "That's why we focused on providing clean water for health facilities and on improving the quality of potable water supplied to the population."

ICRC serving as neutral intermediary between government and LTTE

The intensifying armed conflict disrupted procedures at the Omanthai crossing point between territories held by the government and by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) throughout November. In spite of this, the ICRC facilitated the passage of 3,900 civilians, including 445 patients seeking treatment in Vavuniya hospital, and over 730 vehicles.

"Many people rely on safe passage between the territories held by the two parties to the conflict to have access to health care, and to be able to travel for family or work-related reasons. It's also essential for humanitarian aid to be delivered. To make this possible, the ICRC has been adapting its working procedures to the changing situation on the ground on a daily basis," said Paul Castella, the ICRC's head of delegation in Sri Lanka. "Simultaneously, the ICRC continues to facilitate talks between the government and the LTTE to agree on suitable longer-term arrangements for safe movement between the territories controlled by each of them."

The number of civilians using the crossing point has been dropping steadily since the ceasefire ended in January 2008. Between January and November 2008, more than 268,000 civilians and 32,000 vehicles passed through the Omanthai crossing point in both directions.

The ICRC currently escorts ambulances, civilian vehicles and humanitarian aid convoys through approximately 30 kilometres of no man's land between government- and LTTE-held territories. During the month of November, ICRC staff also transported 95 bodies of fallen fighters through the crossing point.

Protecting civilians and persons held in connection with the conflict

The ICRC continues to monitor possible violations of international humanitarian law affecting civilians throughout the country. If needed, it makes representations to the authorities concerning missing persons, arbitrary arrests, under-age recruitment, unlawful killings and ill-treatment of civilians by weapon bearers. Allegations of violations collected from victims' families are discussed confidentially with the parties to the conflict.

With the cooperation of government officials and the LTTE, the ICRC has been visiting a growing number of people arrested in connection with the armed conflict to monitor their treatment and conditions of detention. In November, ICRC delegates held private talks with more than 670 security detainees in over 60 government places of detention throughout the country and provided them with clothes, toiletries and recreational items. The ICRC covered the travel costs of the families of over 475 detainees, enabling them to visit their detained relatives.

Restoring family links with Red Cross messages

Red Cross messages help family members separated by the conflict keep in touch. In November, the ICRC and the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society collected or distributed almost 730 messages.

In November, the ICRC also:

improved access to health care

- Jaffna district: More than 75 patients requiring specialized medical care, accompanied by 50 caregivers, were transported on ICRC-chartered flights between Jaffna and Colombo. Nearly 30 doctors took these flights either to accompany patients or to fulfil other official duties.

assisted displaced people and returnees

- Batticaloa district: The ICRC provided more than 1,660 returnees with food parcels, 50 sets of kitchen utensils, 175 adult and baby mosquito nets, 430 personal hygiene parcels and over 150 baby-care parcels. Nearly 800 returnees were given over 7,000 kilos of seed paddy, 72,000 kilos of fertilizer and various agricultural tools to resume their farming activities.

- Jaffna district: More than 2,000 residents received nearly 480 tarpaulins and over 100 personal hygiene parcels.

- Kilinochchi / Mullaitivu districts: The ICRC provided 28,400 displaced people with over 480 adult and 500 baby mosquito nets, more than 2,000 baby-care parcels, nearly 500 jerrycans and over 7,000 personal hygiene parcels and tarpaulins.

- Trincomalee district: Nearly 6,830 returnees received over 350 metal buckets, 1,120 personal hygiene parcels, 780 tarpaulins, baby-care parcels and canoes for fishing.

- Vavuniya / Mannar districts: Over 2,265 displaced individuals received 475 personal hygiene parcels and other items, including mosquito nets, kitchen utensils and tarpaulins. More than 8,400 persons were given cash grants to buy seed and fertilizer for farming during the rain-fed paddy-cultivation season.

improved living conditions and access to water

- Ampara district: The ICRC cleaned and repaired two wells and two water pumps.

- Batticaloa district: More than 25 returnee families in Chenkalady were given wooden poles, palm thatch (cadjan), rope and nails to erect shelters. The ICRC built over 20 shelters in the Kiran and Mavadivembu sites and improved more than 10 shelters by cementing the floors and replacing palm-thatched roofs with tin sheets. Three shelters in the Kiran site were dismantled after some displaced persons left to return home. Eight wells were repaired and four toilets built in the same sites. The ICRC built a community centre in Muruthainai to house a health clinic.

- Jaffna district: The ICRC completed three toilets and a septic tank for displaced people living in Mandithivi school and is currently building a septic tank for the displaced in Allaipiddy school.

- Kilinochchi / Mullaitivu districts: Over 1,120 shelters, including a dispensary, were erected for displaced persons in Kandavalai, Maritemapattu, Oddusudan, Karachchi and Puthukkudiyiruppu where six additional temporary shelters are under construction. Over 90 toilets were built, including four at the Puthukkudiyiruppu hospital. A total of 15 existing toilets were cleaned, while a further 20 are under construction. Nearly 30 wells were cleaned and repaired.

- Trincomalee district: Fifty shelters were built for returnees. The cleaning and construction of six wells in Sumedankarapura and Kiliveddi site continues.

- Vavuniya district: The ICRC built four toilets and a septic tank in the Chettikulam school and installed two 2,000-litre water tanks for displaced persons in the Sirukandal site, Nanaddan. A total of 35 tents were dismantled in Sirukandal and Kalimoddai sites when some displaced families left the camps.

enhanced respect for international humanitarian law

- As part of its efforts to increase respect for international humanitarian law, the ICRC conducted 24 information sessions on the law and on the ICRC's work for nearly 2,000 people, including civilians and members of the government security forces.

provided support for the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society

The ICRC continued to provide training and support to enhance the capacity of the Sri Lanka Red Cross to maintain family links and spread awareness of the humanitarian principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

Contact:

Aleksandra Matijevic, ICRC Colombo. tel +94 11 250 33 46 or + 94 777 289 682>br/> Sarasi Wijeratne, ICRC Colombo, tel + 94 11 250 33 46 or + 94 773 1588 44