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Aid Agencies Make Appeals for Displaced in Sri Lanka

International aid agencies say conditions for Tamils displaced by fighting in Sri Lanka are improving, but food, water, sanitation and shelter are needed. The government is appealing for $50 million in foreign aid.

With the population in displacement centers tripling within a period of two weeks, relief workers are struggling to provide shelter, water and food.

Emergency latrines have been erected in Vanuviya, where the majority of the displaced in camps are located.

The country director of the humanitarian agency CARE, Nick Osborne, tells VOA News it is a race against time to prevent a possible outbreak of disease.

"The priorities now are going to be putting more latrines up that are going to be able to cater for that large number of people," said Osbourne. "So providing the water and providing adequate sanitation is going to be a priority in terms of limiting the potential for diseases in the future."

About 200,000 Tamils have taken shelter in what the government calls welfare camps and villages. The United Nations estimates between 50,000 and 100,000 additional civilians are trapped in a four-kilometer sliver of coastal land where the rebels remain.

A United Nations spokesman told VOA News the organization considers the situation here the most serious humanitarian crisis in the world at the moment. The government, the United Nations and private aid groups collectively expect $200 million is going to be needed to handle it.

CARE's Nick Osborne says many donors have been generous, but with no immediate end to the situation more is needed.

"Funding is going to be crucial both for the government to be able to fulfill its ability to meet the needs, but also for us in our working in partnership with others as well and to be able to meet the emergency needs of that population," he said.

Norway is donating $10 million. Japan has announced emergency aid to Sri Lanka of $4 million. Canada is pledging $3 million.

The United States has given $15 million for Sri Lanka via the World Ford Program and another $12 million in non-food aid. Diplomats say more aid is being considered.

Besides insisting aid agencies have unrestricted access to the displaced, some foreign governments are also requesting a halt to the final offensive to allow civilians trapped between a coastal lagoon and the sea to escape.

The government rejects those calls, saying that would only benefit the remaining rebels, estimated at less than 1,000 fighters, not the civilians who authorities say are being used as human shields by the LTTE.

Sri Lanka's Army says it has the Tigers surrounded on three sides, with the Navy patrolling the fourth side, the Indian Ocean.

The military says in an effort to protect civilians it has stopped using heavy weapons and any reported shelling is being done by the LTTE.