UNHCR distributes aid to more than 2,000 host families in Jaffna Peninsula
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, February 5 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has distributed packages of non-food items to more than 2,000 host families in northern Sri Lanka's Jaffna Peninsula despite interruptions to this relief programme launched last November.
UNHCR has been concerned about the plight of internally displaced people - IDPs - in the peninsula since August, when thousands of people fled their homes to escape renewed fighting between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). It also realised that host families needed help.
The agency began last November to distribute non-food items to families hosting IDPs, but the programme was suspended in mid-December because of a shortage of stocks and the inability to bring in more aid by land or sea. The transport of aid by sea was suspended after a merchant vessel carrying food to the peninsula came under attack by the LTTE.
The host family distributions were resumed in January and UNHCR has so far distributed non-food relief items to 2,098 families, with further distributions scheduled in the weeks ahead. UNHCR efforts are part of a larger inter-agency operation that covers the entire peninsula.
Vito Trani, head of the UNHCR office in Jaffna, said the initiative was important because it helped ease the burden on host families. "On most occasions, there are multiple IDP families living with a single host family. Without additional support - like relief items, shelter, water and sanitation facilities - that pressure could lead to other humanitarian concerns," he said.
"These people have opened their hearts and welcomed complete strangers into their homes. It is only fair that they are supported in some way," Trani added.
UNHCR has been distributing aid in Chavakachcheri, Karaveddy, Kopay and Tellippalai, areas of the peninsula which it has been assigned to take care of under the inter-agency programme. Distributions take place every Thursday with the cooperation of local authorities.
Aside from the issue of supply routes, the lack of statistical data about host families is also a problem for UNHCR. The local authorities have gathered some information and hope to have comprehensive figures by the end of June.
By Sulakshani Perera in Colombo, Sri Lanka