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Security concerns affect Red Cross tsunami projects in northern Sri Lanka


Monday June 25, 2007

Australian Red Cross has been working in Sri Lanka responding to the needs of tsunami survivors and communities since December 2004. This has included work in the northern districts of Jaffna and Kilinochchi and in Ampara in the east, areas with significant Tamil and Muslim populations.

In August 2006 hostilities between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil Tigers) and the Sri Lankan Army escalated in northern Sri Lanka. Many people who were participating in and delivering Australian Red Cross programs were forced to evacuate to alternate locations. It still remains unsafe for our national and international staff to work in parts of the north and east of the country.

The unrest has directly impacted six of Australian Red Cross' 20 tsunami rehabilitation projects. Australian Red Cross Country Coordinator for Sri Lanka, Barry Armstrong says that alternative arrangements are being made within the Red Cross Movement to respond to this.

'The security situation in the north of Sri Lanka makes it impossible for our aid workers to visit the communities. Many of the people who were recipients of our projects have relocated, meaning the projects cannot be delivered in the way initially planned.

'We are mindful that the needs of people in these areas continue. In places where we can continue to deliver a service -- like the provision of community based first aid and delivery of hospital equipment -- we continue to do so. But we are also working with the Sri Lankan Red Cross Society and International Federation to ensure that all the projects we intended to deliver will be undertaken in the long term.

Helping across Sri Lanka

Australian Red Cross has 20 tsunami recovery projects located in the north, south and east of Sri Lanka. Projects in the south and east, including housing reconstruction, water and sanitation, hospital refurbishment and other health related projects, are largely unaffected by the fighting and many have been completed. The remaining few are moving towards completion by the end of 2007.

The six projects affected by the conflict in Jaffna include housing reconstruction, hospital refurbishment, and livelihoods assistance. The first aid project with the Sri Lankan Red Cross Society continues to train volunteers in basic first aid. Skills gained through the first aid program are being utilised by Sri Lankan Red Cross Society volunteers responding to the unrest, as well as other health problems such as the recent chikungunya (mosquito-spread viral fever) epidemic.

In addition, a livelihoods assistance program implemented by International Organisation for Migration was completed in December 2006, providing 500 tsunami-affected families in the north with materials, equipment and training to restart and improve their farming activities. Meanwhile, many of the beneficiaries of Australian Red Cross' village and housing reconstruction project in Jaffna have temporarily relocated after road traffic between the peninsula and the rest of the country was cut off in August 2006.

A long-term, holistic commitment

'We are really disappointed that the current security situation has driven communities struggling to come to terms with post-tsunami life from their villages, and led to the relocation of staff from Jaffna,' Barry says. 'But Australian Red Cross remains committed to completing humanitarian assistance projects for the people of Sri Lanka affected by the tsunami, including those areas also affected by conflict.'

Red Cross has an abiding commitment to the Fundamental Principles of Neutrality and Impartiality in all its work. The International Committee of the Red Cross and the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society are continuing to provide emergency humanitarian assistance to civilians affected by hostilities.

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