02/07/2009, 00.00
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Situation worsens for civilians in Wanni

by Melani Manel Perera
About 250,000 refugees have nothing, and it is almost impossible to reach them with food. The only functioning hospital has been bombed, and its patients removed.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - "Around 250,000 people are in need of food assistance in the northern Wanni region of Sri Lanka due to conflict and crop failure caused by flooding." Yesterday's warning from the World Food Program (WFP) echoes the alarm raised by Caritas, that "civilians are facing a terrible situation with many deaths, injuries and lack of food, shelter, safety and medicine."

The WFP claims that "livelihoods have been almost completely lost, exacerbating the general food insecurity, and traditional coping mechanisms have been exhausted. People depend almost entirely on humanitarian food assistance for survival."

Paul Castella of the International Committee of the Red Cross also explains that "the civilians, most of whom have been displaced, are completely dependent on humanitarian aid from the outside, including food, as they are not in a position to grow their own crops."

Red Cross spokesman Sarasi Wijerathne explains that negotiations are underway with the parties at war, in order to agree on a humanitarian corridor for carrying the wounded outside of the area of fighting. He wants to clear out at least 500 injured and sick. The patients have been evacuated from the hospital of Puthokuddyruppu, the only one in the area still in operation, after it was bombed at least four times from February 1-3.

The war between the army and the Tamil Tiger rebels has forced the population to leave their homes, and stop all of their activities. WFP workers themselves have almost no access to the area of Wanni, since the government asked the UN to leave the zone in September of 2008, before stepping up its offensive. Since then, the WFP has been able to send only 11 convoys into the area, with about 7,400 tons of food and other aid. But on January 16 the 11th convoy was trapped amid the fighting, and was able to turn back only with difficulty, and after several days. The WFP then suspended its convoys, and it was only on January 29 that the government sent a convoy with aid that reached the city of Puthokuddyruppu.

Only priests and sisters are left in the war zone, and Caritas claims that one of its offices and a number of its vehicles have been hit by grenades.

The latest estimate from the Defense Secretary, based on government data, says that at least 100,000 civilians are still trapped in Wanni, but humanitarian organizations say there are at least 250,000.

Caritas spokesman Patrick Nicholson reiterates that "we cannot abandon people in need," and "the best and only option is for both sides to uphold their international legal commitments for the protection of civilians."

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See also
Bishop of Jaffna: more than 100,000 civilians risk annihilation
Massacre of civilians, bishop of Jaffna calls for extension of buffer zone
Catholic and Anglican bishops: civilians desperate in Vanni, aid needed immediately
Appeal from Sri Lanka bishops on behalf of war victims
Religious personnel under Wanni bombings


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