Sri Lanka: deputy UN humanitarian chief urges increased help for returnees

Families wade through floodwaters triggered by heavy rains in eastern Sri Lanka

20 January 2011 – The deputy United Nations humanitarian chief today called for greater efforts to assist former internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Sri Lanka who have returned to their villages and are facing daunting challenges trying to rebuild their lives.

“Significant progress has been made in meeting the needs of the displaced and promoting return processes,” said Catherine Bragg, the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, on the second day of her three-day visit to Sri Lanka.

“However, those who have been released [from camps] now face a daily struggle to rebuild their lives, and have to start from scratch,” said Ms. Bragg, who is also the UN Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator. “There is nothing left. They are going to need schools and teachers, hospitals and doctors, and basic social services,” she added.

Northern Sri Lanka was ravaged by decades of conflict that ended in May 2009. The violence displaced more than 300,000 people who were accommodated in IDP camps. Only 20,000 people remain in the camps, unable to return home due to the risk of landmines and lack of basic services.

Ms. Bragg travelled across the South Asian country to get a better understanding of humanitarian priorities. In the north, she went to Theravil in Mullaitivu District, which was recently cleared of landmines, enabling former residents to return and begin rebuilding their lives.

Some 263 families have returned to Theravil – which was one of the last battlegrounds in the conflict – after their release from the largest camp, Menik Farm, in November last year.

During Ms. Bragg’s visit, aid organizations expressed their wish to help address the range of physical, social and psychosocial needs of the returnees.

“We are here to support them. It is good that the Government has invested significantly in infrastructure, but this should be combined with investing in the people as well,” said Ms. Bragg.

She then travelled to Batticaloa in the flood-ravaged eastern province where she heard from local government and aid organizations about the extent of the damage, especially in the agricultural sector, which has lost an estimated 80 per cent of this season’s harvest in some areas.

Ms. Bragg also launched a Flash Appeal for the flood emergency. The appeal seeks $51 million to meet the immediate needs of one million people affected by the floods for the next six months.

She announced that a $6 million grant from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has been allocated to jumpstart key life-saving projects.


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