Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: Tens of thousands of IDPs hit by monsoon rains

News and Press Release
Originally published
COLOMBO , 16 October 2008 (IRIN) - The onset of the north-eastern monsoon in Sri Lanka is accelerating the need to provide adequate shelter to more than 220,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) in areas controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the north, UN and government officials said.

The IDPs remain in the Vanni, a north-central area under Tamil Tiger control and, according to the latest situation report by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), insufficient temporary shelters had been erected by mid-September.

"The first of the monsoon rains have started in Mulaithivu District [in the Vanni], increasing concerns for vulnerable displaced families," the situation report, released on 13 October, stated.

"Humanitarian agencies are increasingly worried about the large gap in shelter provision for IDPs currently with inadequate shelters," stated the report. "Although some IDPs have managed to take shelter material and roofing with them as they have had to displace, only 2,100 temporary shelters had been built at the time humanitarian organisations relocated from the Vanni on 16 September."

UN and other international agencies working in the Vanni left the area in September following a government directive amid deteriorating security.

Shelter needs

Imalda Sukumar, the government agent for Mulaithivu District, which has the largest concentration of IDPs at 155,000 persons (about 39,000 families), said up to half needed proper shelter.

"We feel that at least 14,000 families are in need of shelter material and we are working to get them that," she told IRIN.

"The monsoon is something that we all were expecting and now as we keep food supplies moving to the displaced [in the Vanni], we will have to look at transporting shelter material as well," Gordon Weiss, the UN spokesman in Sri Lanka, told IRIN.

Another 66,000 IDPs remain in Kilinochchi District west of Mulaithivu. Recent fighting in Kilinochchi has forced IDPs to move to Mulaithivu District in large numbers.

The situation report stated that many of the displaced families had relocated to low-lying areas. "Many IDPs have congregated in areas along the A35 highway which were once paddy land and therefore prone to flooding. Shelter agencies had previously assessed some of this land as potential IDP sites and found them unsuitable."

The Meteorological Department has warned that the annual north-eastern monsoon was likely to remain active until at least November.

Food convoys

Since the relocation, some 71 trucks with food supplies, including 30 with supplies from the World Food Programme (WFP), have crossed into the Vanni.

The government pledged it would keep supplies moving into the Vanni and officials said that at least one convoy would travel there every week.

"In order to ensure effective, adequate and safe delivery of humanitarian supplies, the government has been working closely with UN agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC], as well as a number of local and international NGOs," Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said on 14 October during an official visit to Australia.

The UN said it planned to move its second convoy of supplies since the relocation this week. "The plan is to send 50 vehicles with about 45 carrying food stuff from WFP," Weiss told IRIN.

Sukumar, however, warned that the rains could hamper future convoys. "The road from Puliyankulam to Nedunkerni [the route taken by the food convoys] is in a very bad condition," she said.

Due to fighting in Kilinochchi District, the food convoys did not travel far on the A9 highway, the best road in the Vanni, but took a safer route to the east.

"The situation in the Vanni is evolving daily," Anthony Dalziel, ICRC deputy head of delegation in Sri Lanka, stated in the agency's September bulletin, released on 13 October.

The ICRC is the only international humanitarian agency with a permanent presence in the Vanni. "While security remains a concern, we are in daily contact with the Sri Lankan security forces and LTTE, which allows us to obtain the necessary security guarantees to be present and carry out our work in the field," Dalziel said.