A detailed plan to resettle almost 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Sri Lanka is needed to sustain donor assistance, the UN says.
Thousands of Tamil civilians are in some 35 government camps in the northern districts of Vavuniya, Mannar, Trincomalee and Jaffna after fleeing fighting between government forces and the defeated Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who had been fighting for an independent homeland for more than two decades.
“It’s very important that there be clear plans and timelines for people to return,” Neil Buhne, the UN country head, told IRIN in Colombo.
“I think it is going to be difficult to sustain the financing [for relief measures] over a long period if you have 300,000 people in there [in IDP centres] for months and months, stretching into a year,” Buhne warned. “The first stage in reconciliation is how [IDPs] are treated. I think the government recognizes that, we recognize that, but it is a huge challenge.”
|In 180 days, we want to settle most of these people. It's not a promise, it's a target.|
President Mahinda Rajapaksa
His comments followed a pledge by Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa on 10 July to resettle up to 60 percent of the IDPs by November.
“We have a 180-day programme. That is our plan. In 180 days, we want to settle most of these people,” the president said, noting, however, “It's not a promise, it's a target.”
But aid workers on the ground have expressed concern that some of the facilities being erected in the camps appear more permanent than temporary.
A massive influx of IDPs between October 2008 and mid-May caused funding requirements for the Common Humanitarian Action Plan (CHAP) to soar to US$270 million from an earlier estimate of $155 million.
According to the CHAP mid-year review released on 21 July, just $97 million (36 percent against the revised requirements) has been received thus far, leaving a funding gap of $173 million for some 185 projects.
However, funding of basic supplies for IDPs has been provided.
“I think at the moment there has been a lot of progress, in terms of getting supplies in,” Buhne said.
The World Food Programme (WFP), which needs $38 million to meet its funding requirements this year, confirmed it had received major pledges from the US and Japan recently.
“We have just had a pledge of $14.2 million from the US confirmed. This is a very timely and much appreciated donation. Our shortfall has now been reduced to $15 million, or 16 percent of the total budget for our main operation that provides food assistance,” Adnan Khan, WFP country head in Sri Lanka, told IRIN.
|More than 200,000 people now live at the Menik Farm IDP camp outside Vavuniya|
Japan has also donated supplies worth more than $7 million, he said.
“WFP remains optimistic that the necessary funding from donors will be forthcoming. Donors appreciate the importance of responding to the humanitarian needs, and I am sure they will continue to do so,” Khan said.
“Even after their resettlement, IDPs will continue to require some form of food assistance. The IDPs lack resources and will be unlikely to be able to resume their normal agricultural and income-generating activities like fishing and farming for several months after they return to their homelands,” Khan said.
Trickle of returns
On 9 June, more than 2,000 IDPs who had been displaced by the fighting over two years ago from Musalai, a village in the southwestern Mannar District, have returned home, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reported.
Nonetheless, before the bulk of the displaced can return, their villages will need to be de-mined, which does not look very likely at present.
“Only four of the nine mine action organizations presenting projects in the CHAP have received funding to date. The current funding levels are insufficient to adequately support the de-mining tasks allocated,” the CHAP review stated.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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