INGOs' concern for Vanni children said hypocrisy laced

[TamilNet, Saturday, 06 April 2002, 00:07 GMT]
(News Feature) A flag week to promote awareness about malnutrition among children in the Vanni is currently being observed in the northern region, sources said. Awareness seminars for the public on mother-child nutrition will be held in all parts of the Vanni region during the week, a spokesperson for the largest NGO in the north, the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO), said.

asoka_s.jpgThousands of children in the Vanni are afflicted by acute malnutrition as a direct consequence of the decade long economic embargo imposed on the region by successive governments in Colombo and repeated mass displacement and destitution caused by Sri Lanka army operations.

The problem is addressed almost entirely by local organisations despite the presence of major international NGOs and aid agencies in the region.

The TRO runs Mother-Child Nutrition Rehabilitation centres in several towns and main villages of the Vanni.

"Children and mothers suffering from malnutrition are identified by TRO's village development societies and health workers. We then meet them to assess their condition and explain to them our program. If they consent, both the affected child or children and the mother come to the centre for resident nutrition rehabilitation", said Ms. S. Asoka who supervises the Mother-Child Nutrition Rehabilitation centre in Puthukudiyiruppu, which is assisted by the TRO in Canada.

Dr. Sivapalan at the Kilinochchi NGO Council office.
TamilNet correspondents visited the centre during a recent visit to the Vanni.

"We started this centre in October 1996 with very little resources. There are 22 children and 14 mothers here now. It is essential that the mother is healthy to ensure the child's nutrition. The District Medical Officer of Health comes here once or twice a week to check the children's condition. He advises us on many aspects of the program. Once the rehabilitation is over and when the mother and child are ready to go back to their village, we try to ensure through other social service organisations subsidized by the TRO that the family does not fall again into the vicious cycle of destitution", says Ms. Asoka.

Photo of a child suffering from acute malnutrition who was brought to the centre.
Most of the children here are under five.

"We have a specially devised diet program both mothers and children. The mothers stay here for at least six months. Children suffering from malnutrition are extremely prone to disease. Many are afflicted by Malaria. During the years of the Sri Lankan government imposed embargo and restrictions on food and medicine, we had a very hard time finding drugs for malaria and other common ailments to which undernourished children are particularly prone," Ms. Asoka said.

Describing the travails of the centre under Colombo's eleven-year economic embargo on the Vanni, Ms. Asoka said: "Even the most common palliatives such as Disprin and Panadol were not available. At times we could afford only half a tablet of Panadol for the little kids suffering from the pangs of Malaria".

In a memorandum titled 'Future of Children in Vanni', the NGO Council of the Kilinochchi district says that the 'UNICEF is reportedly' the implementing agency in the Vanni for the World Health Organisation's 'Roll Back Malaria' program. "But we are yet to see any such activity here," states the memorandum.

"The INGOs scarcely speak out for the plight of the children afflicted by war induced malnutrition here. When they do say anything at all, we note that the timing and content of their statements are directly or subtly in consonance with the strategic objectives of the Sri Lankan state or the interests of the major powers which backed Colombo's war on our people," observed Dr. K. Sivapalan, the secretary to the Council of NGOs in the Kilinochchi district.

Mothers and children having lunch at the centre.

A group of rehabilitated children waiting to return home.


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