By Amantha Perera
IPS: Some 19 months since the end of Sri Lanka’s decades-long civil war, over 325,000 civilians displaced by the final bout of fighting between late 2007 and May 2009 have returned to live in their villages or with their relatives.
But despite numerous pledges to help these survivors, including the Indian Government’s offer of an 800 million US dollar loan for the redevelopment of northern Sri Lanka and promises to rebuild 150,000 houses destroyed by the fighting, the United Nations said in December that it was running short of funds to implement planned programmes.
Only half of the required funds, or 170 million dollars, have been received or committed, according to the U.N. Humanitarian update for October and November.
“Growing funding shortfalls since the beginning of 2010 have seriously circumscribed agencies’ capacity to deliver life‐saving services to IDPs (internally displaced people) in camps and to returnees,” the organisation reported.
According to U.N. estimates, Sri Lanka’s health sector has fallen short of targeted funding requirements by 30 per cent, followed by agriculture (25 per cent), economic recovery and infrastructure (11 per cent), water and sanitisation (10 per cent) and protection, human rights and rule of law (seven per cent).
There is more bad news. Due to funding difficulties, the World Food Programme (WFP) has halved the wheat flour and sugar in the dry rations it delivers to those displaced by the Tamil separatist war that ended in May 2009.
In 2011, the WFP estimates that it needs some 27 million dollars to continue to provide assistance to an estimated 371,000 people in the country’s north, the Tamil areas most affected by the conflict.
WFP has said it will cease assistance to those in advanced stages of recovery after being resettled in 2007 and 2008, and instead target the most vulnerable populations, including households headed by single women, mothers, pregnant women, and schoolchildren.
“WFP foresees a full pipeline break in early 2011 if donor funding is not received,” the U.N. report warns.
The U.N. country office in Sri Lanka says it is planning to make a fresh appeal for funds soon.
Part of the funding challenges stem from global financial woes. WFP’s reduction of wheat distribution, for example, is the result of skyrocketing prices of the commodity worldwide. But U.N. officials explain in private that the bigger reason is the fact that Sri Lanka has fallen off the global interest radar for donors – or is on the verge of doing so.
Already, some humanitarian aid agencies have begun to either phase out or pull out of Sri Lanka’s former conflict areas.
In 2009, the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) ceased operations in the country’s east, which had been under the Sri Lankan government’s full control since mid-2007 after it drove the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) out of the region. The United Nations’ High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) followed suit in July 2010.
“The scaling down of activities is in part due to funding constraints, and also because WFP’s activities to assist returnee beneficiaries in the east has been completed,” said Paulette Jones, WFP’s donor relations officer. A review exercise concluded that “in 2011, WFP’s emergency and recovery activities should be focused on assisting returnee families and households in the north,” she said.
“The main task now is to help the war-affected people regain a normal life,” Vinayagamurthi Muralitharan, a former top LTTE commander who is now a Deputy Minister of Resettlement told IPS during the UNHCR pullout from the east. After the war’s end, there was less need for agencies like UNOCHA and UNHCR, which deal with emergency displacements and assistance, the government observed.
However, public officials in the east believe they need all the help they can get to speed up recovery. “These areas have seen no kind of sustained development for a long time,” said Rasanayagam Rahulanayani, the top Government official in the eastern division of Vaharai. “Catching up on lost time and opportunities is a daunting task.”
According to the U.N. report, a similar scaling down of work is now taking place in the north-west of the country. But “authorities and partners remaining in the (north-west) area continue, however, to record significant continuing needs in return communities, including shelter, water, food, livelihood and other assistance,” the report said.
The Sri Lankan Government has requested at least one humanitarian aid agency to scale down its operations.
Sarasi Wijerathne, Spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said the organisation was finalising plans to phase out and hand over work to the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society following Government requests to downsize its operations, including the closure of its offices in the east in 2009 and the impending shutdown of two offices in the north, in Jaffna and Vavuniya.
The ICRC voluntarily closed its office in north-western Mannar District in November.
“Humanitarian needs still exist, though maybe not all of them,” ICRC Country Head Yves Giovannoni told the media. “But most of the emergency relief will eventually have to be phased out.”
The reduction of operations comes in spite of some positive results from humanitarian aid programmes in the former conflict zone, including at the Menik Farm Welfare Camp, where some 21,000 war-displaced are housed. Acute malnutrition among children in the camp dropped to 12.4 per cent by November, below the nationwide average of 15 per cent between 2006 and 2007.
Menik Farm closure unlikely by year-end
IDP resettlement on track, says Sri Lankan Government
IRIN: Government plans to close Menik Farm, the country’s largest camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), by the end of December are in doubt.
“I’m not fully sure that we can close Menik Farm camp by the end of this year. It all depends on the landmine situation,” Rishad Bathiudeen, a Senior Government Minister and former Minister of Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services, told IRIN.
According to the UN’s latest Joint Humanitarian Update, since the start of operations in January 2009, the government and its mine action partners have cleared almost 432 sqkm. However, surveys have identified an additional 536 sqkm of contamination in Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, Vavuniya and Mannar districts, including residual contamination in the Eastern Province.
Agencies cleared 5.5 sqkm in October and 2.9 sqkm in November respectively.
Menik Farm, on more than 500 hectares outside the town of Vavuniya in northern Sri Lanka, was once home to some 280,000 IDPs. In 2009, the IDPs fled fighting between government forces and the now defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which had been fighting for an independent Tamil homeland for almost 30 years.
According to the UN, some 21,000 IDPs remain in the camp, about 270km from Colombo, most of whom come from the heavily mine-contaminated areas in Puthukudiyiruppu DS and Maritimepattu DS (Mullaitivu District).
Since the return process began in August 2009, more than 300,000 conflict-displaced have returned to the north from the camp, as well as more than a dozen other IDPs camps that were hastily set up by the government in the final days of the conflict.
The Government had long sought an end-of-year closure for the camp, with the remaining IDPs possibly transferred to a cluster of transit sites close to their areas of origin until demining operations are complete.
Zones 4 and 2 of the camp were closed on 9 November and 24 November respectively, and the 4,600 IDPs living in those areas have been transferred to Zones 0 and 1, where shelters are in better condition.
The UN continues to advocate safe, sustainable and voluntary returns upon completion of all necessary mine action interventions, noting that subjecting the residual camp population to another move and extended displacement in a transit location with poor facilities and service would be ill-advised.