Conflict in Northern Sri Lanka - September 2008 / February 2009

Funds allocated:
US$ 350 000

Affected population:
SEARHEF supported health needs of six welfare villages hosting 280 000 IDPs

The emergency

The over two-decade conflict between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) separatist group finally ended in May 2009. More than 65 000 deaths have been reported according to humanitarian agencies. As the conflict escalated in September 2008, thousands were displaced in the strife-ridden northern provinces of the country. By February 2009, as the Sri Lankan military forces made further inroads into LTTE-dominated territory, the number of displaced people in welfare camps exceeded 150 000. At the end of the armed conflict, about 280,000 people had been displaced from their areas of origin and accommodated in welfare villages in Menik Farm. Physically and mentally shattered by the war, they needed urgent medical attention.

Funds allocated

The Government of Sri Lanka requested funds twice to provide healthcare to those affected, during the period of the conflict – in September 2008, and again in February 2009. Each time, the total amount of SEARHEF funds for one emergency – US$ 350 000 – was released in two tranches, with the first tranche of US$ 175 000 being allocated within 24 hours.

WHO through SEARHEF supported MoH to immediately mobilize medical doctors, nurses and other health staff to provide health services to the IDPs.
WHO through SEARHEF supported MoH to immediately mobilize medical doctors, nurses and other health staff to provide health services to the IDPs.

How it made a difference

Tens of thousands of civilians made their way to the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in northern Sri Lanka. They had lost their homes, livelihoods and loved ones. Many were seriously injured or sick. Pregnant women, young children and the elderly were particularly vulnerable. To meet the health demands on such a large scale was a big challenge and needed resources that were partially met by SEARHEF.

Nurses being trained in Menik Farm, standing in front of temporary accommodation facilities supported by WHO through SEARHEF funds
Nurses being trained in Menik Farm, standing in front of temporary accommodation facilities supported by WHO through SEARHEF funds

Human resources

Doctors, nurses and other health staff were urgently needed to cope with the health requirements of more than 280 000 displaced people. SEARHEF helped to provide the budget for salaries, accommodation and transportation of health staff to hospitals, and for operating mobile clinics, so that as many people as possible could have access to their services.

Hospitals and health infrastructure

In three districts, the funds helped build semi-permanent wards and emergency medical care units. Four temporary wards with a bed capacity of 40 each were constructed in collaboration with NGOs, as well as two primary health clinics in Vavuniya. Facilities at other hospitals such as in Mannar District were also scaled up.

Children in Menik Farm Zone 3. WHO, through SEARHEF funds, is supporting the MoH primary helth care centre in Zone 3.
Children in Menik Farm Zone 3. WHO, through SEARHEF funds, is supporting the MoH primary helth care centre in Zone 3.

Mental health

For those traumatized by the conflict, mental health support was a pressing need. WHO had supported training for building a mental health workforce at the community level, called Community Support Officers (CSOs). SEARHEF funds enabled this to continue and provide much-needed assistance to the internally displaced people.

Medical supplies and health interventions

Bandages, antibiotics, emergency medical kits and surgical kits were urgently needed to treat the wounded and sick. As camps got increasingly crowded, chlorine tablets were needed to ensure clean water. Overcrowded hospitals were provided equipment including catheters and mattresses. SEARHEF helped provide medical supplies quickly so that more lives could be saved.

Primary health care centre in Zone 3, Menik Farm
Primary health care centre in Zone 3, Menik Farm

Disease surveillance

SEARHEF funds enabled WHO to support the MoH to establish a disease surveillance and response system in the six welfare villages hosting 280 000 IDPs. Potential outbreaks of communicable diseases were followed up and addressed immediately.

The outcome for such prompt action: 280 000 people had access to essential health care services. Medical doctors, nurses and other health staff were available in health facilities. Medical equipment, supplies and other medical items were available. Mental health and psychosocial health needs were met through CSOs. No disease outbreak was reported in Menik Farm.

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