WFP Providing Meals To Thousands Of Sri Lankans Fleeing Civil Conflict

Published on 15 May 2009

COLOMBO – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) announced today that it has started providing cooked meals at a government screening point to feed thousands of desperate people fleeing the conflict zone in northern Sri Lanka.

“For many, this will be the first hot meal they have had in days or perhaps much longer,” said Adnan Khan, WFP Representative in Sri Lanka, adding that a new wave of more than 3,000 people trapped by the conflict have arrived overnight at Omanthai. Internally displaced persons (IDPs) must pass through this government screening point before being transferred to temporary transit centres in Vavuniya and Jaffna.

The IDP population is expected to increase rapidly as the Sri Lankan security forces advance into the small strip of coastal land where an estimated 50,000 have been caught up in the fighting in an area now estimated to be less than two square kilometres. 

Prepositioned food stocks

WFP is dispatching mixed food commodities to Omanthai from prepositioned stocks at its Vavuniya logistics hub. The expansion of humanitarian assistance is a part of WFP’s ongoing efforts to assist the Government of Sri Lanka in providing needed food to tens of thousands of people displaced by fighting in northern Sri Lanka. The government and WFP’s local NGO partner, Sevelanka, are responsible for cooking and distributing food at Omanthai. The International Organization for Migration with support from UNICEF is responsible for providing water for drinking and cooking.

WFP is currently feeding almost 200,000 IDPs in northern Sri Lanka, located in some 24 government-controlled temporary transit centres and villages in Vavuniya, Jaffna, Mannar and Trincomalee districts.

Increased hostilities

Increased hostilities in the conflict zone over the last month have significantly restricted the amount of food and other humanitarian assistance that could be sent to the conflict zone. A major shipment of food has not reached the conflict zone since 1 April.  Smaller quantities of food have reached the conflict zone with the support of the government and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Since 12 May, with the support of the government and ICRC, three attempts to deliver food by ship, including a 500 metric ton shipment, enough to feed 50,000 people for 20 days, have been unsuccessful because the security situation on the ground has prevented offloading. WFP has shipped more than 2,000 metric tons of food to the conflict zone under an ICRC flagged ship since the government opened up the sea route to the conflict area in February.

In light of the growing humanitarian needs, WFP is appealing to its donors for an additional US$41.5 million to meet the rapidly increasing needs of internally displaced Sri Lankans.