Heavy rains exacerbated poor conditions for hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs) in northern Sri Lanka over the weekend.
“We’re not prepared for this. I’m afraid things are going to get much worse,” one international medical officer told IRIN in Vavuniya on 17 August, citing concerns over diarrhoea, dysentery and other waterborne diseases.
“From an epidemiological point of view, this is a public health disaster waiting to happen.”
More than 280,000 people live in 30 government camps in Vavuniya, Mannar, Jaffna and Trincomalee districts after fleeing fighting between government forces and the now defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May.
Of these, 246,000 are in 14 heavily guarded camps in Vavuniya, mostly in Menik Farm, a sprawling 809ha site divided into six zones about 50km outside Vavuniya, which quickly became a sea of mud and misery when the rains struck.
“When the [vegetation] was cleared for the camp, little attention was paid to how water might flow in and out of the area,” one resident said.
According to camp authorities, Zone 1 and 4 were the worst affected. Of some 37,000 residents in Zone 4, more than half were badly affected, with tents designed for five and now housing 12 inundated.
Mud and misery
“Within 20 minutes the whole area was flooded. Every tent was affected,” said Ganeshan Sivasundram, 38, from Kanagapuram Village in Kilinochchi District outside his flooded tent in Zone 4. “How are we supposed to sleep like this?”
“Everything is wet,” Singaratnam Ruban, 41, from Jeyapuram Village in Kilinochchi District, who has lived in the camp since March with his family, complained.
|Within minutes, the camps became a sea of mud and misery - and a breeding ground for waterborne diseases|
In Zone 1, where residents are living in semi-permanent sheds, toilets quickly overflowed.
“All the toilets are flooded. Human excrement is floating everywhere,” said Maniam Yogapragash, 33, a resident.
“The water supply system is minimal, the excrement disposal system is pretty basic and the land is flat so what was once dust has now turned to mud,” said one aid worker, who asked not to be identified. He talked about double amputees trying to get around in the mud and children playing in excrement.
“Yes, there are latrines being dug, yes, there is water being piped and tanked, and yes, the Ministry of Health is making huge efforts. But you have to remember, you have a city of over 200,000 here, most of whom live in tents. It’s simply not enough,” he said.
“We have provided cooked meals for the affected people and we are preparing to relocate the people if the situation becomes worse,” Vavuniya’s government agent, CHM Charles, told local media.
But according to international aid workers returning from the field on Sunday evening, that time has come.
“Menik Farm is well named. The place is complete chaos,” one international aid worker who also asked not to be identified, told IRIN. “If you think this is bad, the monsoon rains will be 50 times worse,” he said.
Monsoon rains on this part of the island are expected in September and generally last two to three months.