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Home > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > International Frame of Struggle for Tamil Eelam > United States & the Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Congressional Human Rights Caucus Briefing - Statement by World Food Programme Representative Joseph Scalise
United States & the struggle for Tamil Eelam
Congressional Human Rights Caucus
Briefing - CHRC Archive: Briefings
2 March 1999
HUMAN RIGHTS DEVELOPMENTS IN SRI LANKA
I would like to thank the Congressional Human Rights Caucus for the invitation to brief the Caucus at this important forum.
As some of you may know, my previous assignment with the World Food Programme, prior to coming to the Washington office, was as the WFP Country Director in Sri Lanka from April 1994 to February 1998.
I would now like to provide an overview of the WFP program in Sri Lanka and briefly touch upon two operations that the WFP is spearheading there. I will then say a word or two about WFP’s role in monitoring the food security situation in northern Sri Lanka.
These two operations, Assistance to Internally Displaced Persons and Assistance for the Rehabilitation of Minor Irrigation Schemes are currently benefiting more than 220,000 individuals.
The first operation is entitled:
“Assistance to Internally Displace Persons Project”
The internal conflict (which erupted in the north east of Sri Lanka in 1983 and escalated in subsequent years) has resulted in large-scale displacement of people with limited return or resettlement possibilities in sight.
These people have lost their property and all means of livelihood and have been forced to flee their homes to save their lives.
They neither have the means to manage on their own nor have relations or friends to support them.
They have been housed by the government in 173 welfare centers located in the districts of Puttalam, Anuradhapura and Polonnawura, which immediately border the uncleared areas of the north.
WFP food aid is the primary source of nutritional support and sustenance for these displaced persons living in the welfare centers and has been since 1992.
This project is being implemented through the Department of Social Services under the Ministry of Social Services. Its objective is to assist 50,000 of the worst affected displaced persons by the internal conflict and will last through the end of 1999. There are plans to extend assistance to 80,000 persons in new areas bordering the conflict zone, in late 1999.
The second operation is entitled:
“Assistance for the Rehabilitation of Minor Irrigation Schemes Project”
This project is implemented through the Department of Agrarian Services of the Ministry of Agriculture, in close collaboration with farmer organizations to which the participating farmers voluntarily affiliate, and benefits more than 170,000 individuals.
Its purpose is to:
Help subsistence level farmers achieve access to increased irrigation water on a sustainable basis to increase food production that enhances household food security, and secondly,
Strengthen farmer organizations and train farmers in sound water management and crop diversification practices.
In the second half of this year, a major irrigation settlement project in
Uda Walawe, following decades of WFP support to the major Mahawele irrigation
projects, is to be appraised for a possible start in 2000. These
resettlement schemes have helped to settle some 100,000 landless Sri Lanka
families since their inception in the 1970’s.
Now to Food Security in the North of Sri Lanka
Since 1995, WFP has been closely monitoring the food security situation in the north of Sri Lanka. Weekly reports of government and commercial food deliveries into the Wanni region are provided to WFP by regional officials clearing food supplies at the forward defense lines.
These weekly reports are supplemented by regular consultations and contacts with the principal international organizations operating inside the Wanni: UNHCR, ICRC and MSF.
ICRC and MSF, in particular, regularly monitor health and nutritional needs of the population and have thus far reported no significant deterioration in the nutritional situation.
Oxfam/SCF (in its survey at the end of 97) found no severe deterioration in the nutritional situation. In fact, in certain areas, the Oxfam study concluded that the nutritional situation was equal to or better than the national nutritional situation in Sri Lanka.
However, Oxfam recommended close monitoring of the situation, particularly for children. MSF subsequently maintained therapeutic feeding programs for children aged 6-59 months in the region.
However, MSF has recently closed or reduced most of its wet feeding programs and ICRC has lately estimated that there is an agriculture surplus in the Wanni region this year. All of these factors appear to support the belief that there is no urgent or severe nutritional situation prevailing in the north of Sri Lanka.
However, in July 1998, the government reduced food rations into the Wanni based on its belief that recent migrations of people to areas outside the region had reduced the overall population in the region, and for budgetary reasons.
After a concerted effort by the international community, led by the UN agencies operating in the north, government food rations were increased in December 1998. Partly as a result of this event, the first official population census in the Wanni region in more than a decade was agreed to by both sides in the conflict.
Just last month, this population census was begun in the four uncleared areas of northern Sri Lanka with the participation of the Sri Lanka government, UNHCR, the WFP and the LTTE. The results are due in mid-March, 1999, this month. However, there are reports that this census is being delayed in some areas due to lack of clearance by both sides in the Wanni.
Lastly, I should point out that a joint UN food security assessment mission under WFP leadership (with participation of FAO, UNICEF, who and UNHCR) is being planned for May 1999 in the uncleared areas of the Wanni and–depending on the results- this area might be included in a new protracted relief operation that is to be presented to WFP’s governing body in October 1999.
In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, the food security situation in the Wanni region requires close monitoring, and WFP is prepared to do just that, in close collaboration with its UN and NGO partners, and the Sri Lanka government.
This concludes my statement. I would be happy to answer any questions the members of the Caucus may have.