The United Nations and Government of Sri Lanka today announced the launch of a $50 million appeal to meet the urgent humanitarian needs of the rising number of desperate civilians fleeing the fighting in the north between the army and Tamil separatist rebels.
The number of people seeking shelter in makeshift government camps rose from 65,000 to almost 190,000 in just a few days following a mass exodus from the conflict zone when government forces breached the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) defences on 20 April.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that around 50,000 people remain trapped in the conflict zone, a shrinking pocket of land on the north-east coast line.
It`s a critical time, stressed UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Sri Lanka Neil Buhne. Around a quarter of under 5 year-olds in the camps are under-nourished, and they need immediate help. Tens of thousands more civilians are expected to come from the remaining zone.
The appeal to fund emergency relief aid targets the most urgent humanitarian needs for an estimated 250,000 people, including food, water, sanitation, shelter, nutrition, health and protection, as well as educational requirements for thousands of children who have been without schooling for months during the escalating conflict.
Last week, hundreds of people who had escaped the fighting more than a year ago returned home last week to the Mannar district and the appeal includes agricultural and economic projects to support similar returns. The Government says that it intends to return 80 per cent of the displaced to their homes by the end of 2009.
The $50 million appeal for immediate relief and recovery efforts is an adjusted figure extracted from the Common Humanitarian Action Plan request for $155 million, launched in March in anticipation of the evolving humanitarian crisis. Less than one third of that appeal has been funded.
Meanwhile, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he spoke to President Mahinda Rajapaksa today and called for a pause in the fighting to allow humanitarian workers into the conflict zone.
This would allow more desperately needed aid, above all food and medicines, to get in, Mr. Ban told reporters in New York. It will save lives.
He also urged Government authorities to avoid the use of artillery and heavy weaponry in the conflict zone. I have also appealed to the LTTE to let civilians go and stop forced recruitment, he added.
Protecting civilians and respecting international humanitarian law, must be priority one. The world is watching events closely, including for violations of international law.