Feature Article

Food War

[TamilNet, Saturday, 09 December 2006, 14:27 GMT]
Four months after the closure of A9, Jaffna’s economic lifeline, bakeries are closed, and shelves in the co-operatives and private shops are empty, as stocks have depleted and fresh supplies dwindled. Assurances given by the Government of Sri Lanka to provide sufficient food and essentials to Jaffna Peninsula have only brought in supplies of rice and lentils by sea. There's no sugar, oil, milk, the basics. People queue from morning until afternoon by the special military shops run by the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) adjoining their camps for a rationed amount of essential commodities. Colombo appears adamant to continue to prosecute the food war with Jaffna residents.

children in Jaffna
Officials of the Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and workers at local volunteer organizations said that Jaffna residents have lost hope on fresh food supplies arriving via A9 to relieve their food woes.

To a family of four, during the last four months, only 1/2 ltr of coconut oil, 300 grams of garlic, 4 soaps cakes and 300 grams of dried chillies were provided, and this illustrates the predicament of the average citizen, NGO officials added.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka Government said Friday the Liberation Tigers have rejected requests made through Norwegian Peace Envoy, Jon Hanssen-Bauer, to allow a one-time convoy of food items via A9, and to allow private traders in Jaffna to operate freely.

Jaffna
[Photo: TamilNet Library]
Jaffna
[Photo: TamilNet Library]
The Government had said the "450 plus co-operative stores and 16 military shops" were inadequate to efficiently distribute supplies.

The military shops opened by SLA, Jaffna residents allege, are also being used as a recruitment ground to assist Colombo's counter-insurgency campaign. Run with the assistance of military intellligence, the shops screen people queuing at military shops collecting personal data to help identify new informers to work with the SLA, residents added. Replenishment of SLA's pool of informers has become urgent due to increasing attacks by the Liberation Tigers on SLA informants, sources in Jaffna said.

Fuel shortages have also contributed to sharply rising commodity prices and have paralyzed Jaffna's commerce.

Although Jaffna Government Agent, K Ganesh, and Secretariat officials have urged the traders to refrain from hoarding essential items, some scarce items can still be obtained in the black-market. For example, soap is publically sold in towns for Rs.100 a piece. Mosquito coils, in high demand, are sold for Rs.350, ten times the normal price.

Shortage of medicine, including even Panadol to treat non-lethal illness, in district hospitals has reached crisis proportions, health officials said. Patients who attend hospital clinics for illness including diabetes, high-blood pressure and heart-ailments which require regular intake of medicines, are being asked to buy the medications in private drug stores. Available medicines are marked at exorbitant prices beyond the reach of many patients, civil society sources said.

The outbreak of viral fever in Jaffna Peninsula created a critical need for Panadol and glucose, and many deaths, close to 60 in Kokuvil, Kondavil area, 3km north of Jaffna town, were attributed to the shortage of medicines, civil society sources added.

Food and Commodity Prices in Jaffna

Commodity

Current Price

Normal Price (before A9 closure)

Price Increase

Tea (kg)

Rs.1100

Rs.200

450%

Jaggery (kg)

Rs.550

Rs.100

450%

Coconut Oil (ltr)

Rs.1100

Rs.120

817%

Vegetable Oil (ltr)

Rs.800

Rs.130

515%

Sesame Oil (ltr)

Rs.1500

Rs.250

500%

Dried Chillies (kg)

Rs.550

Rs.200

175%

Corriander (kg)

Rs.1200

Rs.90

1240%

Black Pepper (kg)

Rs.2000

Rs.150

1240%

Garlic (kg)

Rs.700

Rs.200

250%

Table Salt (kg pkt)

Rs.90

Rs.15

500%

Coconut

Rs.110

Rs.20

450%

Soap

Rs.100

Rs.25

300%

Kerosine (ltr)

Rs.200

Rs.63

220%

Petrol

Rs.350

Rs.102

240%

Panadol (one tablet)

Rs.5

50 cents

900%



“It makes you feel vulnerable. You realize that everything around you, everything about your existence, is controlled by an outside occupying power which is gradually closing you in from all sides. Even the bread you eat is not in your control. At the same time, you feel a sense of solidarity with those around you,” said Pathinipillai Thillairajah, 52, a homemaker, waiting in queue to buy bread in Jaffna town.


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