Feature Article

Uncertainty haunts Vaharai IDPs, two children die of diarrhea

[TamilNet, Monday, 18 September 2006, 15:54 GMT]
A one-year-old baby girl and a 7-year-old girl, both children of Internally Displaced families from Muthur East, have died of diarrhea at Vaharai hospital. A displaced medical doctor from Eachilampattu, M. Varathan, working at Vaharai hospital says the IDPs in Vaharai are facing health hazards. A displaced person, Thangarajah, says that the IDPs were however not prepared to return home, "at least until a situation that prevailed prior to April 25, is returned to our areas."

Thousands of Tamil families from 24 villages in Eeachilampattu and 21 villages from Muthur East are forced to live in the welfare centres in schools and other public buildings and along the roads in Vaharai area in the LTTE controlled Batticaloa district.

The children who died were identified as S. Dilani, 01, and T. Nilaxini, 07.

The hospital at Vaharai has to attend more than 150 IDPs per day, and the number is increasing, the doctor says.

IDP in Vaharai area

More than 40,000 people displaced due to the recent military offensive by the Sri Lankan Forces in the LTTE controlled Muttur East and Sampoor area in the Trincomalee district, have taken refuge in the LTTE controlled Vaharai in Batticaloa district. In addition to the difficulties caused by living as refugees, the IDPs are further burdened by the economic embargo enforced by the Sri Lanka military, and the absence of NGOs who had left the area under Sri Lanka Government's pressure.

Vaharai is situated 55 km northwest of Batticaloa along Batticaloa- Trincomalee A-15 road.

IDP in Vaharai area
Thangarajah Thasan, 53
Thangarajah Thasan, 53, an IDP told TamilNet: “When the Sri Lankan Forces advanced to capture Muthur and Sampoor areas they attacked the area by land and air, and launched shells on population centers. Due to the attacks, people were killed, injured and lost houses and properties.

"My three children and I escaped through the drainages by the roadside and hiding behind trees. I underwent similar experiences in the past, but this time, it was very difficult to stay in a place for a certain period as the Sri Lanka Army's (SLA's) multi-barrel guns sprayed shells over large areas. We were forced to move to another district this time.

"When we fled to the Verugal-Mugaththuwaram area the shells fell among us, 4 people including a MPCS driver were killed on the spot, and 6 others injured.

"Because of the displacement, the farmers and fishermen were badly affected and crops under cultivation were all destroyed. The banana and coconut plantations had suffered severe destruction," Thasan said.

IDP in Vaharai area
IDP in Vaharai area

Thasan continued: "As soon as we reached Vaharai, Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) first attended to our basic needs. But after TRO's funds were frozen in Colombo banks, the TRO has reduced its relief provisions to us.

"Now we are staying in a school in Vaharai area where we struggle to meet the most basic needs to live. We face shortage of food, clean water, inadequate living space, and only rudimentary health and sanitation facilities.

"A 7-year-old girl, Thayaparan Nirogini from Muttur East, died due to diarrhea on 13 September and no media covered this matter.

"Though we are provided with food, we do not have any financial help even to buy our children basic things like milk powder, and medical supplies. Presently, the Forces allow only a limited bus service to Valaichchenai and imposed a limit on things can be brought. A person who bought 3 kg cabbage was allowed only ½ kilo to take at the Checkpoint. Soldiers did not allow another person to carry a new pair of slippers."

Nagendran Suthagar, 18, a student at Senaiyur Central College, detailed his experience to TamilNet: “We came here only with the clothes we were wearing. We had to decide whether to save our lives or take our belongings with us. I plan to sit for the G.C.E. O/L Examination in April 2007, and I am skeptical whether I can continue my studies. I used to go to the school regularly and help my father in his cultivation after the school. We were self-sufficient and we leading a peaceful life. Now we have lost everything, including many of our relatives and properties, we are dependent on relief organizations to survive, and lead a life of misery."

IDP in Vaharai area
IDP in Vaharai area

"I request the Government and the relevant authorities to declare the place, where we are staying, as war free zone, and allow us to continue the studies”, he added.

K.Mahesan, the Additional Government Agent of Batticaloa district told TamilNet that the SLA continue to block taking tents and iron bars to the Vaharai area to put up temporary shelters to the IDP.

"We discuss the IDP related issues, with the Military hierarchy every Monday from 21 August onwards in the meeting of the Heads of Departments. Embargo on essential items are added or removed from a list at the whims of the military. Fuel for tractors and machineries are permanently banned,” Mahesan said.

When asked what kinds of measures have been taken regarding the ban on Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) to the LTTE controlled area, Mr Mahesan said, “according to the decision taken at the Ministry of Defense, all NGOs excluding the UN bodies can go to the LTTE controlled areas accompanied by the Divisional Secretary (DS) of the area. But the Forces informed us that NGOs cannot go to the area alone, with their emblem on their vehicle.”

The Ministry of Disaster Management has released a media report saying that 25 million rupees has been allocated for erecting temporary shelters for the IDPs. When asked what happened to the funds, Mr Mahesan said: ”The allocation is with the Koralai Pattu North (Vaharai) DS, and erecting temporary shelters are getting delayed due to practical problems.".

IDP in Vaharai area
IDP in Vaharai area

On the education of IDPs' children Mr Mahesan said: “7 schools in the Vaharai area remain closed as the IDPs are housed and actions are undergoing to reopen them. And arrangements are made for the displaced students to continue their studies in the other schools of the area.”

“There are no adequate doctors or other medical staff in the hospitals in Vaharai area. Presently, only 2 doctors, one attached to the Italian Red Cross Society and another attached to the Eechchilampatttu hospital, are serving there. Furthermore, The MOH, Valaichchenai made some other arrangements to fulfill the medical needs of the IDP,” he further said commenting on the health issue.

As there are news on fresh talks between the Government and LTTE coming, the IDP expects a new life to them. Until a settlement reached and implemented they have no other option than languishing in the so- called refugee camps.


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