Colombo, May 18, 2009—What next? This is the critical question for the next phase of the humanitarian response in Sri Lanka as the land war with the Tamil Tigers comes to an end leaving almost quarter of a million Tamils in displacement camps.
Aid agency director Suresh Bartlett, of World Vision in Sri Lanka, says: “The conventional war may be over but the real challenge now is to foster an environment where fractured and displaced Tamil communities can heal and have a real chance at creating a future for themselves and their children.” He says there are four issues that must be tackled to put Sri Lanka’s children on the road to recovery.
1.Get people back to their original land and homes as quickly as possible and then provide them the support they need to get back to work. (This will need to in many cases be accompanied by de-mining, infrastructure rebuilding and livelihoods set-up).
Bartlett says: “There are now almost 250,000 people in the displacement camps, among them an estimated 80,000 children. These people have been displaced numerous times and in reality the camps are yet another displacement, albeit one where they are safe and having their basic needs met. It is important to get people home as quickly as possible so they can feel a sense of ownership over their own lives, recover their dignity and livelihoods and create an environment where their children feel safe.”
2.Provide special support for children that address their physical, psychosocial, emotional and educational needs. Many tens of thousands of children have been severely emotionally, physically and mentally impacted, having endured months of extremely violent close quarter conflict, suffered a lack of health care, and poor access to shelter and food. Aid agencies and government ministries need to identify children who have suffered trauma and distress and find creative solutions to address this special problem.
Bartlett says: “Getting children back home and then back to school will have the biggest impact for good on their health. Children need to be back in communities and classes where neighbors and teachers can keep an eye on them and restore a sense of normalcy which is what children crave. Hundreds of schools need to be rebuilt, repaired, re-staffed and restocked with equipment to make this a reality.”
3.Trust building programs are essential to create an environment of peace. Many Tamils who come from the area once controlled by the LTTE may never have had Sinhalese neighbors or friends. Likewise those from the south may be suspicious of northern Tamils. A large percentage of those from Colombo or the South have never been to the conflicted North.
Bartlett says: “We need trust-building programs to break down years of prejudice. It is especially important to focus on the next generation – the children – to give them the opportunities to meet and get to know each other. We would advocate for trust-building programs that bring Tamil and Sinhala communities together, especially those who once lived along what was the Line of Control that divided the country.”
4. Millions of aid dollars needed. The international community, donors and banks need to give or lend millions of dollars to fund the return, recovery and rehabilitation phases. None of these programs is possible without the commitment of the international community to support recovery efforts. But without this support the country may not be able to make a real go at winning the peace, so losing out on a vital opportunity to bring peace.
Bartlett says: “It is important that donor nations look beyond the financial crisis and the politics of giving or not giving to Sri Lanka and think instead of the tens of thousands of children who will miss out if we don’t help rebuild their families’ lives and meet the specific needs of children themselves. We have already lost the futures of two generations of children to nearly three decades of war. This must not be allowed to continue.”
World Vision has been assisting those in camps with water, food, shelter, non-food relief items as well as nutrition, education and psychosocial programs for children.
World Vision is a Christian relief and development organization dedicated to helping children and their communities worldwide reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty. We serve the world’s poor regardless of a person’s religion, race, ethnicity or gender. For more information, please visit www.worldvision.org/press.