Sri Lanka: UN Emergency Relief Coordinator calls on both sides to grant aid access

Sri Lanka: UN Emergency Relief Coordinator calls on both sides to grant aid access

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The United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator today called on both sides in strife-torn Sri Lanka to allow humanitarian assistance to get through to those civilians trapped on the frontlines, while also highlighting the plight of over 130,000 people in the east of the island forced to flee their homes because of the recent upsurge in fighting.

“I am extremely concerned that tens of thousands of civilians have had to flee their homes once again in eastern Sri Lanka due to the new escalation in violence. I appeal to both parties in the conflict to respect the lives of the civilians in accordance with international humanitarian law,” said Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes.

“My main worry at the moment is for the civilians who have been unable to leave the conflict zones. The UN agencies are unable to operate in frontline areas and therefore cannot help the civilians living there,” he said. “All parties to the Sri Lanka conflict must grant access to humanitarian agencies so that they can help those trapped in the crossfire.”

Mr. Holmes met with the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka in New York on 13 March to discuss the situation.

The eastern district of Batticaloa is now sheltering over 130,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), the highest number in the country, and large numbers continue to escape the fighting between the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which has been going on for over 20 years despite a ceasefire signed in 2002.

In addition to problems with access for emergency aid, there is also very limited funding, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said, adding that the most urgent need at the moment is food. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) reports that it does not have the additional in-country stocks for all the IDPs now in Batticaloa.

Other priority areas include shelter, water and sanitation, and Mr. Holmes stressed the need for more international assistance.

“The needs of persons internally displaced by conflict are especially acute. While I welcome the contributions made thus far – by Italy, Sweden, and the United States, as well as Australia, Canada, ECHO [European Commission Humanitarian Aid department], and Switzerland and the pledges of others – they represent only a fraction of the funds needed to help people in a timely fashion.”

At the moment, the aid community is assisting close to 600,000 displaced persons in Sri Lanka – those displaced by the previous conflict and the 2004 tsunami disaster, including those forced to flee in recent months. Women and children are particularly vulnerable in the current environment.