Crisis in Sri Lanka
According to the UN, 6,500 civilian have been killed and 14,000 wounded since January. Those trapped in the area of active fighting are only sometimes able to make their way to makeshift hospitals like the one pictured above. Because of lack of access to treatment, many people are dying when they finally reach safety or are losing their limbs to amputations because of severe infections. An aid agency estimates that a quarter of those who have been injured have had limbs amputated.
There are extreme shortages of food, including infant formula and milk powder, in the conflict zone. The civilians in this zone are completely reliant on humanitarian aid. Government restrictions and heavy fighting have severely limited the delivery of food, medicine, emergency shelter and other essential items. In the photo above, mothers are asking for milk powder from staff but the hospital has none to give.
Makeshift hospitals, like the women’s ward of the Puthumathalan hospital pictured above, are staffed by dedicated doctors, nurses and aid workers who have put their lives on the line to provide care to the injured and the sick. Hospitals have repeatedly come under fire during the conflict. Sometimes the shelling is so heavy that the doctors and staff are confined to bunkers and are unable to treat the injured. On April 21, one doctor was killed when a makeshift hospital was hit by a shell. Several other humanitarian workers have been injured or killed in recent months.
Although doctors in the conflict zone have managed to operate makeshift hospitals and provide care, they have almost no equipment and supplies due to restrictions on aid deliveries to the area. Facilities lack antibiotics, anesthesia and other medicines. The twin babies in the photo above were successfully delivered by caesarean section in such a center lacking basic supplies and equipment.
The lack of adequate food aid since September has resulted in widespread malnutrition. In mid-March, Unicef found that a quarter of children under five coming out of the war zone were malnourished. A government doctor treating children who were still trapped in the war zone found that 69.91 per cent were malnourished in March. As food supplies have dwindled, the situation is expected to be much worse now.
* As of May 14, all makeshift hospitals, including those in the pictures above, have been closed due to intensive fighting. Over the course of the conflict, many sustained intensive shelling.
Update: May 11
Over the weekend, hundreds of people were killed in the conflict zone of northeastern Sri Lanka. According to a government doctor working in the area, 378 people were killed and over a thousand injured. Within the past few days, there has been heavy fighting between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan military, and many civilians are trapped in the conflict zone.
Because independent journalists are not permitted in these areas, claims are difficult to verify. Reports are being pieced together from eyewitness accounts, hospital reports and government statements. It is believed that of the dead and wounded, many are civilians.
In addition, there are reports of at least 30 deaths due to starvation among people who recently escaped from the conflict zone to government-run camps for the displaced. Most of the dead are senior citizens. Those arriving from the conflict zone have been weakened by months of extreme hardship. Insufficient deliveries of aid to these civilians, who have been dependent on this assistance, have led to high levels of malnutrition. With the recent large influx of civilians out of the conflict zone and into these camps, systems for the distribution of food, shelter, water and medical care are stretched thin.
AJWS’s partners have been working steadily since the conflict flared up to assist civilians, regardless of ethnic or religious identities. They are currently responding to the needs of those escaping the conflict zone, providing food and essential aid.
Update: May 1, 2009
There is growing belief that the war in Sri Lanka, a deadly 26-year-old conflict, will soon be over. But with 6,500 dead and 14,000 wounded in the last three months alone (according to the U.N.), there is little triumph in this alleged victory. more
Tens of thousands of civilians, mostly from poor and rural communities, have been able to leave the conflict zone, a small section of land in the northeast of the country that is held by the Tamil Tigers and is under siege by the Sinhalese-majority government. It is estimated that 81,000 to 100,000 people have fled the conflict zone within the past few weeks.
Since aid organizations were expelled in September 2008, citizens caught in the fighting have received very little food aid and medical attention, and are extremely weakened. There are reports that an alarming number of civilians who have recently emerged from the war zone are dying due to their wounds and lack of food and water. Another 50,000-100,000 are estimated to still be trapped in the conflict zone. (Because aid workers and journalists cannot access the area, exact numbers are unknown.)
Far from being over, the conflict in Sri Lanka is only headed in new directions. An acute humanitarian crisis is underway, with devastating malnutrition rates and medical crises among IDPs. While a UNICEF survey in mid-March found that a quarter of children under five coming out of the war zone were malnourished, a doctor providing care to those who are still trapped found that almost 70 per cent of children remaining in the war zone are malnourished. Many fear that a military victory will only drive further insurgency and retaliation in the future. And as with so many conflicts, it is the poor who are caught in the cross hairs. more
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