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Flash floods wreak havoc on Tamil refugees

world Updated: Aug 18, 2009 00:24 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times
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Flash floods triggered by heavy rains have forced thousands of Tamil refugees to live without proper shelter amid deteriorating sanitary conditions in camps in the northern district of Vavuniya.

It also triggered criticism from the opposition, United National Party (UNP). Opposition leader and former premier Ranil Wickremesinghe warned that the spread of diseases in the camps during the current rains could worsen conditions for nearly 300,000 civilians held in camps.

"Sri Lanka's image will be damaged further if the situation inside camps worsens during heavy rains," Wickremesinghe said. "The government will not be able to re-settle displaced people during monsoon showers."

On Monday, a report from the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that flash floods have damaged the sewage system in some of the camps.

"Heavy rains have placed wash facilities under pressure. In Zone 2, 95 toilets are under water, with sewage mixed with the storm water. The water here is stagnant and contaminated with fecal matter. Further, the soakage pits attached to some toilets have collapsed completely."

Camps in the Vavuiya district account for more than 2.5 lakh of the 2.8 lakh Tamil refugees.

Aid groups have said the camps were overcrowded and if heavy rains continue the condition of the refugees could only get worse.

The OCHA report said that government officials said that relocating internally displaced persons (IDPs) to public spaces is a last resort. District schools were currently unavailable for relocation as high school exams were on.

"More than 100,000 internally displaced people in Wanni camps are without proper shelter as heavy rains begin to lash the area. Zone two and four of the Menik farm camps (in Vanuniya) were the worst affected as the rain water flowing through the camp has made it impossible for the people who are in temporary shelters made of plastic sheets to stay in their tents," the Sunday Times newspaper said on Sunday.

The government blamed UN agencies for the flooding in IDP camps in Vavuniya saying they had taken the responsibility to construct drainage systems and flood preventive measures at the sites.

“The UN agencies involved in the IDP camps had taken the responsibility of constructing the drainage systems and flood preventive measures. So the government cannot be blamed for the poor condition of the drainage systems which burst and failed,” Minister of Resettlement and Disaster Management, Rizad Bathiudeen told Daily Mirror online.

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