By Dolores Bachmann, Caritas Emergency Response Team Leader, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Caritas is providing much needed food and other assistance to the many displaced in Vavuniya and Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka.
More than 188,000 people have now crossed into government-controlled areas and are in camps in Vavuniya , Jaffna and Trincomalee. Up to 1,700 injured people have been transferred to various hospitals in Mannar, Trincomalee, Anuradhapura, Colombo.
Caritas is providing food for over 7,000 people in seven camps in Jaffna Diocese and some 12,500 in Manic Farm Zone 1 in the Diocese of Mannar. The planning, procurement and logistical challenges of providing food for so many are daunting and requires collaboration with the authorities, UN agencies and other NGOs working in the area.
The UN’s WFP is providing a basic food ration of rice, dahl, sugar and oil for Caritas beneficiaries while Caritas provides the spices, vegetables and fish/eggs/meat that add flavor and substance to their meals. But imagine cooking for 12,800 persons 3 times a day in communal-run kitchens, the only option right now for feeding so many!
A team of 20 Caritas staff are kept busy organizing and monitoring the delivery of food to the camp, the proper storage of the food on site, organizing together with the IDP community in the camp the smooth preparation and cooking of meals, not to mention all the washing-up and cleaning afterwards.
Setting up the systems and regular flow of basic necessities to these people in such a short space of time is a challenge for everyone. Cooperation and collaboration between the different aid agencie is key.
But the last several months of flight, insecurity and uncertainty have taken their toll. Caritas staff report that many are undernourished – particularly the children and the elderly. And if illness strikes, they are among the first to buckle under.
Over the coming weeks, as assessments provide more detailed information on the population profile of the different camps, identifying and addressing the needs of the most vulnerable groups within the camps will become a priority.
Already, 273 very weak and vulnerable elderly people have been granted permission to move to the convent of the Sisters of Mother Teresa in Vavuniya, where they are now being cared for and supported. The events they have experienced have marked them and the sisters spend much time listening, comforting and consoling them.
For many of in the camps, a highpoint of the week – and an antidote to the monotony and boredom of camp life right now – is the weekly celebration of mass. The Bishops of Jaffna and Mannar have both visited and celebrated mass in several of the camps over recent weeks. In order for as many as possible to participate, the camp PA system was used. In some camps, over one-third of the camp population is Catholic.
And many of the priests who for years have served these communities are now in Vavuniya ready to listen to and accompanying the IDPs over the coming weeks and months.
Throughout the country, the parishes and Dioceses are mobilizing resources and providing in-kind donations of various kinds – clothes, hygiene items, food. These are collected, sorted and trucked up to the Caritas base at Vanvuniya or to the closest Caritas parish office for distribution to the needy people.
The Bishops and the Church are unanimous: we have witnessed a massive exodus of civilians from the war zone who now need safety, security and humanitarian assistance. The Church will accompany them in their suffering not just now but until they are resettled and have recovered and rebuilt their lives, their livelihoods and their communities.