U.N. aid agencies say they have no access to an estimated 50,000 people trapped in a conflict zone in northern Sri Lanka. The agencies say the Tamil civilians are unable to flee the area to safety and they cannot enter the zone to help them.
Hundreds of civilians have been killed in recent fighting between Sri Lankan government troops and Tamil Tiger rebels. Aid agencies say they are horrified by, what they call, a bloodbath. And, the U.N. Secretary-General, Ban Ki- Moon says he is outraged at the appalling loss of life.
U.N. aid agencies are caring for nearly 200,000 Tamil civilians who have managed to flee the conflict zone. But, tens of thousands of others are trapped and remain unprotected.
The World Food Program is providing food assistance to more than 90,000 people in temporary transit centers in Vavunya and Jaffna districts. The agency has sent five shipments of food into the region with the support of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the government over the last two weeks.
WFP Spokeswoman, Emilia Casella, says a total of 150 metric tons of this food aid has gone into the conflict zone.
"However, this is really only enough to feed about 60,000 people for five days," Casella said. "And, given that we do not even know exactly how many people are trapped in the conflict zone, our concern is that the food being sent in is not enough."
Casella says WFP plans to dispatch at least three more shipments this week. She says a ship was being loaded with 500 metric tons of food on Tuesday. She adds this is considerably more food than what has managed to get into the conflict zone so far.
"The humanitarian situation for those trapped inside the conflict zone, obviously is desperate and reports are indicating that many of the fleeing IDPs [internally displaced people] have not had a proper meal in days," Casella said. "What we are seeing among the newly arrived IDPs children under five, pregnant and lactating women and elderly are reportedly significantly under-nourished due to the long distances that they are traveling and the lack of adequate food while in the conflict zone."
Casella notes there is little capacity to store food in the conflict zone nor to cook. To remedy that, she says those people who do manage to escape will get a hot cooked meal prepared in one of the transit centers.
She says this is an expensive operation. She warns WFP is running out of cash and only has enough food to last until July. She appeals to donors to urgently contribute more funds so WFP can maintain its life-saving programs.