08/19/2009, 00.00
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Sri Lanka: monsoon hits refugee camps, risk of disease and deaths

by Melani Manel Perera
The first rains have damaged or destroyed 2 thousand shelters: 10 thousand people without shelter or sanitation. The most affected centre is Manik Farm in which around 280 thousand refugees are housed. Five deaths and latrines out of use with the risk of pollution of drinking water and the spread of diseases.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - The monsoon rains are pouring down on Sri Lanka aggravating living conditions for refugees held in camps in the areas of Mannar and Vavuniya. The most affected centre is Manik Farm in which around 280 thousand ethnic Tamil war refugees are being held. The United Nations say that about 2 thousand shelters have suffered severe damage: 10 thousand people have been deprived of shelter and sanitation.

The monsoon season, which began August 14, will continue until September and aid agencies are sounding the alarm over the worsening humanitarian conditions in refugee camps.

Gordon Weiss, UN spokesman in Colombo, says that "the impact of the first storms was enormous and the damage caused by the monsoons of serious concern”. David White, director of Oxfam in Sri Lanka, believes that "the site [of Manik Farm] is not accessible either from a logistical or technical point of view and we will not be able to deal with the rainy season”.

The first floods in the camps have caused at least five deaths among the refugees. A boy was killed when the latrine he was using collapsed. White explains that "the camp toilets are flooded. Mud and excrement are draining towards the people’s tents and the areas where refugees cook”. There is a serious risk of contamination of drinking water which “increases the risk of the spread of disease”.

Nimalka Fernando, Sri Lankan lawyer and human rights activist, tells AsiaNews that "the refugees in camps in Vavuniya are not being treated as victims of the conflict, but as war criminals”. The woman adds: "If this is the sad condition in which innocent civilians are forced to subsist, I do not dare imagine what treatment is given to the militants from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), or the maimed and disabled, who are locked up in special camps" .

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