Sri Lanka

WFP urges progress on humanitarian situation for thousands displaced by Sri Lanka fighting

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COLOMBO - A senior official of the United Nations World Food Programme called for more resources and improved humanitarian access and security for aid workers providing assistance to thousands of people displaced by the recent upsurge in fighting in Sri Lanka.

Tony Banbury, Asia Regional Director for the WFP, met Sri Lankan Government and donor representatives in Colombo, and visited WFP operations providing food aid to internally displaced persons from the Batticaloa District in the east of the country during his four-day mission.

"I am very concerned by the deterioration of the humanitarian situation as a result of the resurgence in the conflict. And I am especially concerned about the impact of the conflict on civilians, many of whom have now been displaced multiple times by the fighting," said Banbury.

"WFP is committed to assisting those in need, including people living in IDP camps and people now returning to their communities, as long as those returns are safe and voluntary. But we need more resources from donors right now, otherwise we will have to cut back assistance to victims of the conflict," he added.

In meetings this week with the Minister for Disaster Management and Human Rights, the Minister for Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services, and the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Banbury discussed the challenges brought on by the return to fighting, expressed sympathy for the Sri Lankan people who have suffered from the conflict, and pledged the continued help of the World Food Programme in addressing the humanitarian needs of those affected.

Banbury raised concern about critical operational constraints impacting the ability of WFP and other UN and humanitarian workers to aid those persons most in need:

- access by humanitarian agencies to vulnerable populations in the north and east of the country;

- security for international and national staff of WFP and other aid agencies amid recent reports of threats to aid workers' safety;

- slow deliveries of critically needed food, in particular, for the Jaffna area, where WFP food stocks are very low.

"WFP will continue to work with the international community to ensure that increased resources are available for people who need assistance, provided this aid can be delivered with full respect for humanitarian principles," Banbury said. "We call upon all parties to respect basic humanitarian principles and allow food and other humanitarian assistance to be delivered unhindered to persons and communities affected by the conflict, especially in the Batticaloa area and the Jaffna Peninsula."

WFP is working to increase food deliveries in Batticaloa District to ensure that basic food supplies reach persons forced out of their homes over the past two months by fighting. In Jaffna, the UN food aid organization has only very low food stocks and is seeking to ship an additional 1,000 metric tonnes of food to the now cut off peninsula area. Overall, more than 400,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) and conflict-affected people are now in need of emergency food and relief assistance in the conflict-affected areas in the north and east.

Banbury travelled to an IDP Camp in Chenkallady, 19 km north of Batticaloa, on Thursday, meeting camp residents, observing a general food distribution and reviewing operational issues. Following the visit and a request by the Government, WFP has decided in principle to provide food assistance for a limited period to displaced persons and families who are able to return to their homes.

With the resumption of hostilities between the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) last year, WFP has significantly expanded operations to provide emergency food assistance to the most vulnerable displaced and conflict-affected people in Sri Lanka.

There is a critical and urgent need for additional contributions to cover the costs of feeding the greatly expanded number of persons displaced by the fighting in and around Batticaloa. For the next six months, WFP needs a total of 18,677 tons of food costing US$ 10.7 million for programs helping the displaced and other vulnerable groups.

Donors to WFP's current relief and recovery operation in Sri Lanka include Australia (US$ 11.5 million), the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (US$ 7.2 million - for CERF see: http://ochaonline.un.org), Japan (US$ 6.9 million), the United States (US$ 6.5 million), private donors (US$ 2.9 million), Italy (US$ 2.9 million), Canada (US$ 2.4 million), the United States (US$ 2.1 million), Greece (US$ 1.6 million), Switzerland (US$ 1.5 million), Norway (US$ 742,000) and the European Commission (US$ 630,000). A further US$ 300,000 has been received in multilateral contributions.

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: on average, each year, we give food to 90 million poor people to meet their nutritional needs, including 58 million hungry children, in 80 of the world's poorest countries. WFP - We Feed People.

WFP now provides RSS feeds to help journalists keep up with the latest press releases, videos and photos as they are published on WFP.org. For more details see: http://www.wfp.org/english/?n=999.

WFP now has a dedicated ISDN line in Italy for quality two-way interviews with WFP officials.

For more information please contact (email address: firstname.lastname@wfp.org):

Paul Risley, Asia Spokesperson, WFP Bangkok, Tel. +66 2 655 4115, Cell. +66 81 701 9208

Jeff Taft-Dick, WFP Country Director Sri Lanka, Tel. +94 77 726 4113

Brenda Barton, Deputy Director Communications, WFP/Rome, Tel. +39-06-65132602, Cell. +39-3472582217 (ISDN line available)

Gregory Barrow, WFP/London, Tel.. +44-20-72409001, Cell. +44-7968-008474

Christiane Berthiaume, WFP/Geneva, Tel. +41-22-9178564, Cell. +41-792857304

Jennifer Parmelee, WFP/Washington, Tel. +1-202-6530010 ext. 1149, Mob. +1-202-4223383

Bettina Luescher, WFP/New York, Tel. +1-212-9635196, Cell. +1-646-8241112, luescher@un.org