What you need to know about the flooding in Sri Lanka's displaced camps

I've been going back and forth on Twitter with Indi on this. There are so many people willing to blame the Sri Lankan government for the current calamity facing the displaced Tamil civilians who are confined to camps.

Below is the sequence of Twevents.

I sent Lydia a Tweet in response to her New York Times article. I guess Indi saw the tweet, and he then responded with the following:

We've tweeted back and forth, but Twitter's 140 character limit makes it impossible to get the message across.

This is what you need to know.

The government of Sri Lanka and aid groups, such as UNHCR, outlined their individual obligations several months ago. It was decided that the UN would fund projects related to drainage and sanitation among other things.

The government offered the manpower and the land for necessary development. The UN and its humanitarian agency partners were entrusted with the task of funding such projects.

The government of Sri Lanka warned the aid groups of the threat of approaching monsoonal rains. They requested funding for elevated concrete foundations for tents, as opposed to the clay mixed soil which turns to mud instantly. They also asked for better toilets as opposed to a hole in the ground.

Now heavy rains in Sri Lanka has caused flooding in these camps. The "holes in the ground" -- the aid group's sorry excuse for toilets -- were flooded and human waste was seen floating everywhere. When elevated concrete foundations were requested, the issue of long term containment was raised. It was used to pressure the Sri Lankan government to release the displaced back to an area ravaged by war. The area is still being de-mined as well.

The facts:

Associated Press
When temporary latrines overflowed from use by more than 100 people each — 2 1/2 times their intended capacity — military commanders demanded concrete latrines. The aid groups offered to build more wooden latrines instead.

With heavy rains expected in the coming weeks, military commanders suggested giving residents bags of cement to pour foundations for their tents. The aid groups protested that cement floors could become the foundations for permanent structures.

Reuters Alertnet
The government says it is the United Nations and its humanitarian agency partners who are responsible for building the toilets. It may come as no surprise to some that the government is not happy with the quality and design of the toilets, which can best be described as open pit latrines with some wooden supports to cover the area. Once the pit is filled, you dig a new one somewhere else.

For reasons I am grappling to understand, most standard post-emergency operating procedures follow a process in which the initial response to a disaster is to provide 'temporary shelters and toilets'. The next phase is the 'transitional' or 'semi-permanent shelters and toilets', and then you get to the 'permanent shelter and toilets'.

The argument is that by building 'temporary' structures, people's right to return to their homes - in itself a political issue - is reinforced. In the eyes of the agencies, anything that is built of a semi-permanent nature is tantamount to encouraging people not to return.
Stop for a minute and re-asses this entire situation.

Why are these people in camps? Why are they confined? Why are aid groups who are entrusted with providing the essentials for the needy pressuring the Sri Lankan government to release them? It is not a part of their outlined duties in Sri Lanka? It is not what their donors expect of them either.

The displaced Tamils are not in camps because of the Sri Lankan government. They were not merely forced to flee due to fighting close to their homes. They were taken against their will by the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) and held against their will as a human shield.

There are countless news articles and videos all over the Internet backing this up.

A Sri Lankan Tamil who holds a Canadian passport, now being held as a combatant, told freelance journalist Kath Noble that he was arrested by the Tamil Tigers and forced into battle. This video shows a Caritas representative saying the Tamil Tigers were holding thousands of people against their will as a human shield.

Today information is skewed in such a manner that some feel the Sri Lankan government has arrested all these displaced Tamils, and is entirely responsible for their plight.

Sri Lanka was very clear right from the start that there were several requirements needed to be met before the displaced would be allowed out of the camps. They told us that the displaced would have to be screened for Tamil Tiger combatants hiding among them. The government also made it clear that the former conflict zone needed to be de-mined, and several buried weapons dumps belonging to the Tigers needed to be unearthed. Ongoing investigations also needed to be completed in order to ensure that no Tamil Tiger leaders were hiding in these camps.

At this point you need to ask yourself who represents the best interest of these displaced civilians. Is it an aid group, or is it a government that has invested millions to free Tamils being used as a human shield? This situation could have been averted had the aid groups co-operated with the Sri Lankan government. A government that represents the best interests of all citizens on this island.

Sri Lanka's displaced will go home when the government has deemed the time is right. Making these people suffer further in the process is not wise. Blaming the government for what resulted due to the incompetence of foreign humanitarian workers is outright stupid.

Tags: , , ,