Looming Health Crisis in Sri Lanka Sparks 'Grave Concern'

( [email protected] ) Jun 12, 2009 12:50 PM EDT

One of the largest Christian relief and development agencies in the world is “gravely concerned” that impending monsoon rains and inadequate sanitation will place tens of thousands of people at risk from disease in displacement camps in northern Sri Lanka.

The sanitation facilities in the largest camps where most of the displaced are living are “woefully inadequate,” according to World Vision, and at least 11,500 more latrines are needed in the camps to comply with international minimum standards.

And with the monsoon expected to arrive within the next two weeks, the organization says at least 2,500 are needed immediately to meet even the most basic needs and to prevent a potential health crisis.

“We are very worried about the outbreak of diseases," commented Suresh Bartlett, World Vision Lanka's national director. “When the rains come in two weeks or so I can't imagine what conditions will be like due to the lack of any proper drainage and toilet system.”

Unsafe drinking water and inadequate sanitation facilities is known to give rise to water-borne diseases such as typhoid, cholera and dysentery and promote mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue, with children among the most vulnerable.

"Camps further north in Jaffna have already experienced rains,” reported Bartlett, “and there we have seen people trying to keep their things dry in overturned buckets and hanging their babies in saris to keep them off the ground and out of flood waters.”

Although World Vision has access to work in the camps, it says it is now “severely short” of the funds needed to respond.

"I urge the international community to give freely,” said Bartlett. “There are so many crises in the world at this time – a financial crisis, a crisis in Pakistan – but the needs of those who have survived the conflict are extreme.”

According to reports, around 300,000 displaced people – including 90,000 children – are in desperate need of food, medical assistance and other basic needs in the aftermath of a 26-year-long conflict between the Sri Lankan government and a separatist terrorist group that ended last month.

To provide food and water alone for all the survivors, it would require $1 million each day, reported World Vision last month, just days after Sri Lanka’s president declared the conflict over. And the roughly $3.50 per person per day doesn't take into account the provision of shelter, medical care, or children's schooling for those in the camps.

Currently, the U.N.-driven Common Humanitarian Action Plan for Sri Lanka has drawn $72 million in funding for relief efforts and has additionally received $23 million in pledges. The plan’s requested amount stands at $155 million – which would provide enough food and water for about five months according to World Vision’s calculations.

With the funds gathered so far, however, survivors would only have food and water for two months, and that doesn't take other needs into account, including sanitation needs, which Bartlett said were among the greatest.

World Vision said it needs an additional $3 million to support a scaled up response in the displacement camps.

“After surviving such a violent conflict, it will be extremely unfortunate for the children and babies to now succumb to disease," Bartlett commented.

World Vision is currently working with other aid agencies to support and care for the displaced persons in the camps. The organization is providing shelter, food, water and family packs of essential items and is supplying top-up food, and supplementary nutritional food to children under five and nursing mothers.

Over the past six weeks, World Vision has trucked five million liters of water, distributed 100,000 packs of cooked food and supplied 60 MT of complementary food to the communal kitchens.

The organization continues to advocate for adherence to international minimum standards (SPHERE) in camp management, support and care for the displaced and their speedy return to their own homes or locations of their choice.