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More than three decades of terrorism that engulfed Sri Lanka ended decisively with the
Government security forces defeating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May 2009.
The rise of Tamil militancy from early part of 1980s impacted on civilians creating
internal displacement, particularly in the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka. Some of
the armed groups renounced violence over a period of time and entered the main stream of
politics. However, the LTTE continued to use violent means to achieve its objectives. The
ambush of 13 soldiers in 1983, sparked off several days of rioting in the capital, Colombo and
suburbs causing harm and damage to the life and property of a number of Tamil civilians. These
riots, though not repeated thereafter, resulted in further displacement. Some left Sri Lanka to
establish themselves elsewhere.
In the latter part of October 1990, the LTTE forcibly evicted over 75,000 Muslims displaced
them from Jaffna and Mannar in 48 hours. Assassinations, targeting of civilians by shooting,
suicide attacks, and bombings was part and parcel of the LTTEs strategy. Many prominent
Tamil civilians with moderate views were also eliminated and every attempt was made by the
LTTE to maintain a fear-psychosis, among the civilian population. This resulted in large
numbers of civilians fleeing conflict affected areas as IDPs. In addition, several natural disasters
including the devastating tsunami of 2004 created a further category of IDPs.
It resulted in the Government of Sri Lanka developing expertise and extensive institutional
frameworks in dealing with IDP issues. This report records the humanitarian efforts of the GoSL
in partnership with United Nations (UN), International and Local NGOs and other organizations
in responding to the welfare needs of those internally displaced due to the conflict.
Attempts to revive the stalled peace process in 2005 were not successful even though several
attempts were made by the Government. These attempts were made inspite of sporadic acts of
terrorism and assassinations carried out by the LTTE and in the background of unilateral
breaking of past ceasefire agreements. However, when a sustained attack was launched on the
forward defense lines at Muhamalai, the entry/exit point to the Jaffna peninsula, the Government
was compelled to take counter measures.
Consequently the GoSL appointed a Commissioner General of Essential Services in August 2006
to maintain all essential services in Jaffna Peninsula and un-cleared areas of Vanni.
The GoSL in September 2006 established a consultative apex body (Consultative Committee on
Humanitarian Assistance (CCHA) to provide humanitarian assistance to the conflict affected
population in a centrally coordinated manner in response to a request made by the co-chairs to
the peace process; i.e. Japan, United States, European Union and Norway. It convened from
October 2006 on 28 occasions to deal with crucial policy and coordination issues. CCHA was
chaired by the Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights with representatives from
Ministries of Nation Building, Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services, Health, Education, and
Foreign Affairs. Commissioner General of Essential Services (CGES) and the Government
Agents of the districts of the Northern Province together with Mr. Robert O. Blake (at that time
the Ambassador to United States and President of Co-chairs to the peace process),
Representatives of the EU Presidency, Ambassador to Japan, UN Resident Coordinator, all
Heads of UN Agencies, Heads of ICRC and ECHO were also represented. The CCHA was kept
fully appraised of the humanitarian situation developing on the ground and the measures taken
by the Government to provide relief on an immediate, medium and a long term basis. Based on
that feedback the CCHA provided policy guidelines.
Throughout the conflict, all basic and essential services (including health and education)
continued to be provided to all affected communities. The Government Agents of the Northern
and Eastern districts, ensured the presence of the GoSL and acted as an easy point of contact for
civilians to access state services. This network was extensively used to identify and provide
humanitarian assistance, ensure local level distribution and obtain feedback on the ground
Towards the end of the conflict, the LTTE forced the entire civilian population (villages in most
instances) to accompany their fighting cadres and held the civilians as hostages to prevent the
Government security forces attacking. The civilians so taken were also used as a human shield to
launch attacks against GoSL forces. This necessitated the GoSL to put together and carryout a
large scale humanitarian rescue operation. At the end of the rescue operation over 275,000
civilians were freed, becoming dependent on the Government for security and basic essential
services. As an immediate further institutional response, a Presidential Task Force for
Resettlement, Development, and Security in the Northern Province (PTF) was created which
continues to function primarily focusing on the Northern Province.
GoSL made special efforts to ensure that education and medical services were supplied in an
uninterrupted manner. The network of public officials in these sectors were continuously paid
their salaries and pensions for retired public servants together with all other capital and recurrent
expenditures associated with the infrastructure. The GoSL put in place a sophisticated and
elaborate patient referral mechanism for patients needing further care utilizing local, district,
provincial, and national level hospitals.
Overall the measures adopted are categorized as humanitarian assistance to the Jaffna Peninsula
and un-cleared areas in Vanni from 2006; and humanitarian assistance provided to IDPs rescued
from the LTTE in 2009.
Providing Humanitarian Assistance to Jaffna
The LTTE attacked Muhamalai in August 2006 preventing the main land route to Jaffna being
used. As a result supplies to the Jaffna Peninsula had to be delivered by sea and air at a very
high cost. Jaffna that was dependent on a 5000 strong private trader network had to depend on a
mere 523 multi-purpose corporative society outlets when private traders ceased trading because
of LTTE threats. For sea transport, the vessel owners were not willing to charter vessels to the
North due to the threats and the few who agreed demanded very high charter fares and war risk
premiums. The attack by LTTE suicide boats in January 2007 of MV Liverpool, a civilian cargo
vessel, which was unloading essential supplies at Point Pedro in Jaffna, resulted in further destabilizing the few vessels that were bringing cargo to civilians. Inability to use normal sea routes and the need for lengthy diversions resulted in additional voyage time and huge costs. Refusal by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to lend its flag to enable terrorism risk free shipping operations also added to the difficulties of the situation. Inadequate unloading facilities and bad weather condition aggravated the complexities of logistics.
Providing Humanitarian Assistance to the Vanni Un-cleared Areas
Due to the security situation on the ground, supplies by road to the Vanni region had to be
completely halted on 23 January, 2009. At an emergency meeting convened in Colombo on 17th
February with the participation of ICRC and senior officials of government and Sri Lanka Navy,
a decision was taken to immediately commence sea transportation. Initially the government was
compelled to use tug boats and passenger vessels to transport cargo as merchant vessels were
unwilling fearing LTTE attacks. In 2006 merchant vessel MV Farah was run aground near
Mullaithivu after boarding by the LTTE. Due to absence of port facilities the cargo was unloaded
manually in mid sea under constant fear of attack from the Sea-Tiger wing. The government took
on the liability of paying compensation in the event of an attack as no insurance coverage was
Security imperatives necessitated the verification of supplies at the Entry/Exit, prior to vehicles
entering the conflict zone. GoSL staff was available seven days of the week for this purpose.
However when the ICRC restricted its presence to 4 days of the week it severely hampered
supply vehicle movements. Turning away of WFP humanitarian aid trucks by the LTTE,
imposing restrictions on aid staff and even seizing WFP supply trucks in un-cleared areas further
hindered timely supply to civilians.
The GoSL‟s humanitarian response was coordinated and civilian centered. The necessary food
quantities were decided in consultation with the respective GAs, WFP, Ministry of Nation
Building and Ministry of Resettlement. Regional Directors of Health provided the necessary
data, based on the ground situation, in order to decide the medical supplies to be sent. Essential
supplies to the Vanni were sent under three categories; (1) monthly rations to the IDPs under the
WFP; (2) supply of essential items to IDPs displaced prior to 2005 by MRDRS; and (3) through
the network of Multi Purpose Cooperative Societies to be sold in the open market. The
distribution took place under the supervision of the GAs and in the case of WFP delivered rations,
by its officers stationed in the districts. In order to ensure regular transportation, a fleet of 300
trucks belonging to the “Lorry Owners Association” of Killinochchi was registered with the GA
of Vavuniya. Medical supplies were distributed through all functioning government hospitals.
This process continued until it was interrupted in 2009 consequent to LTTE attacks.
In the above background, in addition to using sea and air routes, a special logistical hub was set
up in Vavuniya by GoSL with WFP and UN, to facilitate the storage of almost 5000 metric tons
of food and non-food items to accelerate supplies and to ensure that supplies were maintained. In
spite of reports of supplies falling into the hands of LTTE cadres, the GoSL continued to supply
to un-cleared areas. When the population in Killinochchi was forced by the LTTE to move with
their cadres towards Mullaithivu in January 2009, the buffer stocks of food in Killinochchi
district was transported and handed over to GA Mullaithivu to be distributed to the civilians. The
buffer stocks were adequate for a period of three months. At the conclusions of military
operations in May 2009, excess stocks of paddy were found in warehouses in Mullaithivu and
Killinochchi as reported by the Commissioner of Co-operative Development in the Northern
As the conflict escalated the government made the delivery of food to un-cleared areas its top
priority. Having conveyed this to the partner organizations, the Government in December 2008
facilitated a UN Rapid Needs Identification Mission to Killinochchi and Mullaithivu.
By October 2008, the WFP along with other agencies left Killinochchi and relocated to
Vavuniya. CGES enhanced supplies to Killinochchi and Mulaithivu districts and arranged
special convoys of supplies every week to the Vanni in consultation with WFP. As requested by
CCHA, extra long trucks were purchased by WFP in 2008 and priority lanes at government
check points were established for ICRC and UN vehicles to expedite the food delivery operation.
GoSL ensured that the families that were located in the Northern district were to be supported by
the government (through the MRDRS) and their rice requirements for the displaced families
were purchased from the local production to assist the farmers in the area. GoSL insisted, for this
reason, that WFP too should purchase its rice requirements for each of the districts from the local
farmers as much as possible. This measure enhanced the livelihoods of the farming community
and reduced pressure on logistics. Further the GoSL facilitated the sale of excess paddy. GoSL
paid special attention to send subsidised fertiliser to Jaffna and Killinochchi and Mullaithivu
districts which supported farmers to yield a bumper harvest in 2008. In September 2008, the
government made special efforts for Northern farmers to sell their excess paddy (almost 1550
metric tons) through their local co-operatives to the Co-operative Marketing Federation in capital
Delivery of Humanitarian Aid
During the period January 2008 to early May 2009, 58,393 metric tons of essential items were
sent to Killinochchi and Mullaithivu districts alone. This was in addition to the excess paddy
available in the districts, the buffer stocks maintained on location and 33,383 metric tons
supplied to co-operative outlets during 2008 up to January 2009.
Every month, five to six hundred thousand litres of fuel was sent to each district, knowing that it
could fall into the hands of the LTTE. The fuel was to be used primarily for operation of
hospitals and essential services such as transport. Fuel was also made available to operate
vehicles of the UN, ICRC, and other agencies (including NGOs) engaged in humanitarian
assistance. Supply of kerosene oil was ensured so that the civilians could cook, operate their
farming equipment, and meet other household requirements.
After the WFP and other organizations relocated to Vavuniya towards the latter part of 2008,
during a 4 month period from October that year, the WFP carried 12 convoys delivering 7,694
metric tons of food to the districts of Killinochchi and Mulaithivu.
In October 2008, when WFP consignments were delayed, CGES intervened and directed GA
Vavuniya to purchase and dispatch to Killinochchi and Mullaithivu an emergency consignment
of sugar, lentils, flour, and vegetable oil costing Rs. 63 million. CGES issued orders to maintain
a 3 month buffer stock of 750 – 1000 metric tons in each district costing Rs. 43 million.
With the commencement of use of sea routes in January 2009, inspite of unwillingness of vessels
to sail to Mullaivaikkal and Putumattalan, CGES made arrangements to send 4218 metric tons of
food, but was only able to deliver 3150 metric tons. Large quantities of medicines were also
delivered using the sea routes. On 28th April 2009, the merchant vessel MV Thirupathi with a
cargo of 1068 metric tons of essential items had to be diverted to Jaffna from Putumattalan as the
LTTE prevented unloading of supplies.
The GoSL continued to maintain the school network and provide education for the children. All
salaries of education personnel, including those serving in school in un-cleared areas was paid by
GoSL. Free school books were regularly distributed along with school uniforms. The two
important national examinations, General Certificate of Education – Ordinary Level and Advance
Level, were conducted. In spite of attempts by the LTTE to prevent students from sitting the
examination and gaining entry into Universities, in 2008 about 80% of the eligible students
under the new syllabus and about 50% under the old syllabus sat for the Advance Level
GoSL continued to staff and run medical hospitals in the conflict areas sending medical supplies
at regular intervals in quarterly cycles. Medical supplies for hospitals in un-cleared areas were
handed over to the RDHS at Omanthai. There were approximately 900 government health staff
in Mullaithivu and Killinochchi alone. These supplies and services were supplemented by ICRC
and INGOs. Following the forcible civilian displacement, government health services provided
by the Northern Provincial Council moved with the people towards Mullaithivu together with
health staff. Patients requiring further treatment were initially transferred by road, and thereafter
by Sea when road travel was not possible. Nearby hospitals (Vavuniya) were used for treatment.
When transportation by sea commenced patients were treated at Trincomalee and Padaviya
hospitals, which was quickly upgraded with supplies and equipment. An Indian field hospital
established in Pulmudai provided emergency treatment.
GoSL also sent medical experts regularly to monitor nutritional levels, sending necessary
supplies for the use by children under 5 years and pregnant and lactating mothers. Following the
detection of nutritional high energy biscuits in the possession of LTTE cadres, the GoSL sent
Thriposha and Soya blend as an alternative. On 17th January 2011, the New Yorker reported that
during the last days of the hostage rescue operations, children found chocolates and meat in
The facilities at the Welfare Villages took many forms. Shelter was provided as tents, because
many relief agencies were reluctant to accede to the government request to provide more
permanent structures fearing that such would result in the IDPs being held in the village for more
than necessary periods of time. Each Welfare Village was divided into blocks of shelters (tents),
which had their own kitchens, toilets, water points, tube wells, bathing, and child friendly spaces.
Special priority was given for recreational areas. Shelters were provided with electricity and
toilets located within accessible distances. Later, nearing the monsoon rains, the GoSL issued
two bags of cement per tent to maintain dry floors.
More than 20 liters of water per person per day was delivered. In addition for bathing and other
purposes, water supply was increased to 40 liters. Separate bathing areas for women were
specifically constructed. The water services provided met and exceeded SPHERE standard
adopted by the WHO as the standard for emergency situations. Absence of water related
epidemics demonstrates the efficacy of the water and sanitation provided. Special public health
inspectors were appointed to monitor the water sources. Communicable diseases that had
infected some of the IDPs while in captivity of the LTTE was quickly treated and effectively
controlled from spreading. Even with the monsoon rains, there was not a single case of dengue
within the village.
Cooked food packets were initially distributed, to be followed by cooked meals. Thereafter
progressively community kitchens were built, and individual family cooking introduced as the
next step. WFP provided basic rations complemented by civil society (e.g. Rotary International)
providing other complementary foods and equipment. The people in all parts of the country
galvanized their efforts to send in enormous quantities of humanitarian assistance, continuously
for several months. Ultimately, such efforts had to be suspended due logistical difficulties in
coping with the quantum of assistance. Doctors and others volunteered their services and the
public officials who were IDPs were engaged and salaries paid. Establishment of Cooperative
outlets, facilitating sale of products of IDPs to commence their livelihood activities were also
arranged. Nutrition surveys were carried out as part of health review of the IDPs.
Emphasis was given to the preventive side of health care. A dedicated Medical Officer was
appointed to be in charge of each welfare village, functioning as health care managers as well.
Medical supplies were provided on time in adequate quantities. Each village had a referral
hospital and a primary health care centre with separate wards for male and female patients. In
addition specially made three wheeler ambulances were provided for each Village. Special
mental health clinics were conducted to deal with psychological issues faced by IDPs with
‘Happiness Centres’ for children with television, computers, books, drawing material, and other
recreation equipment. Crude daily mortality rate (deaths per day per 10,000 population) settled
at less than 0.5 per 10,000 per day, which is the threshold rate for South East Asia.
Schools were established in all main Welfare Villages for all levels of Children along with pre
schools and vocational training institutes. A zonal Director of Education was appointed to each
village to coordinate education activities. The Examination Department conducted examinations
through 10 centers allowing children including 166 ex LTTE child soldiers to sit for their
respective examinations. UNICEF and other NGOs partnered with GoSL.
In all Welfare Villages places of religious worship of different denominations we established for
worship. Substantial banking facilities were provided and both state and private sector Banks
established outlets/branches. The Banks had a total of 1908.7 million rupees (US$ 17.3 Million)
Special arrangements were made to help IDPs reconstruct their legal documents and their legal
identities. Temporary identity cards were issued to all adults. Several NGOs conducted programs
within the village explaining to the IDPs their rights and the way to access governmental and
other services. Communication centers and post offices (total of 61) were established. The
village inhabitants were connected with the rest of the world. Special transport facilities were
provided to attend funerals etc outside the villages.
Resettlement process commenced with demining progressing and the concurrent development of
essential infrastructure. Prior to this IDPs such as elders, pregnant mothers, families with infants,
differently abled persons, patients with chronic and serious illnesses, university students, priests,
and non nationals were sent to their next of kin with a written assurance that they will be looked
GoSL has completed the resettlement of a large number of IDPs in their places of origin. The
IDP crisis that was faced by the GoSL was enormous in comparison to any standard. The GoSL
together with UN led humanitarian partners faced the challenge and successfully overcame the
attending difficulties to complete what could be termed a major achievement in the field of
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