Exodus of IDPs overwhelms northern Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka, April 28, 2009

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Reuters/Stringer, courtesy www.alertnet.org  </span>
    Civilians arrive at the village of Putumatalan in Puthukkudiyirippu, northern Sri Lanka April 22, 2009 after fleeing an area still controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the 'No Fire Zone'. Thousands more civilians surged out of Sri Lanka's war zone on Wednesday while soldiers and Tamil Tiger rebels fought the apparent endgame of Asia's longest-running war despite calls to protect those still trapped. Picture taken April 22, 2009. Photo: Reuters/Stringer, courtesy www.alertnet.org

Mercy Corps is marshaling a humanitarian response to the growing crisis in northern Sri Lanka, where more than 90,000 people have fled fighting between Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan army in the past week.

In all, an estimated 190,000 Sri Lankans are living in camps located in government-controlled areas; at least another 50,000 remained trapped inside the conflict zone, according to the UN.

Families escaping the area face overcrowded camps with "overwhelmed" health facilities and a lack of water and sanitation, according to the UN. In the area most densely settled with displaced families, Vavuniya, an average of 18 persons are crammed into tents designed for a family of five, according to the UN's humanitarian team.

Mercy Corps, which has been working in Sri Lanka since 2005, is meeting with government officials and representatives from other humanitarian agencies to determine how we can best contribute to the relief efforts. We have mobilized an emergency-response team within the country and are prepared to begin operations immediately upon request.

Currently, our 90-person team works in the two coastal areas hit hardest by the tsunami to support economic recovery in job-rich industries, support small-scale farmers and mitigate the potential for conflict.

In Sri Lanka's Eastern Province, which has been heavily affected by the country's 26-year civil conflict, we're helping family rice farmers improve their yields by providing high-quality seeds, teaching less-costly farming techniques and improving access to credit. We're also bringing together communities of different ethnicities and faiths to lay the groundwork for a peaceful Sri Lanka.