Disease Outbreak 'Imminent' in Sri Lankan Relief Camps

There is an urgent need to ward off outbreaks of disease among the hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils living in relief camps, an international Christian development agency warned.

Development charity Christian Aid says that with hundreds of new arrivals flooding into the camps every day, the camps are "an epidemic waiting to happen."

Robin Greenwood, director of Christian Aid's Asia program, warned that the combination of monsoon rains, poor drainage and overcrowding was threatening camps with diseases like cholera and typhoid.

Greenwood fears that a "disease outbreak in northern Sri Lanka is imminent if the government does not tackle the problem of overcrowding and sanitation."

According to the aid agency, there are currently 30 people living in tents designed for five people.

"Now that the Sri Lankan government has sovereign control of all of its territory, it must live up to its responsibilities to its citizens and put more into the relief effort," he said.

Last month, Sri Lanka declared victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and an end to the 25-year civil war that displaced a quarter of a million people.

Christian Aid has been working with its local partner organizations to respond to the humanitarian needs of those who fled the conflict by providing much-needed relief in the camps.

Another global humanitarian aid organization, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), said the displaced population was living in extremely difficult conditions.

"It is still uncertain when they will be able to return to their home communities," the agency said. "Many of the displaced spent months trapped in the northern conflict zone, and they suffer from injuries, malnutrition, and severe trauma."

UMCOR is helping thousands at the Menik Farm camp by providing emergency shelters for 700 families as well as 3,000 baby and hygiene kits, and 34,000 emergency kits.

Recently, after United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for greater international relief access to internal displaced person (IDP) camps, the Sri Lankan Government responded by granting "unhindered access" to refugee camps.

Meanwhile, several human rights groups have called for independent investigations into the number of civilians killed in the final weeks of the civil war.

The calls intensified after London's The Times reported that 20,000 civilians were killed in the final phase of military operation against LTTE.

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