Sri Lanka: Common Humanitarian Action Plan 2009

Sri Lanka: Common Humanitarian Action Plan 2009


For 25 years, civil conflict in Sri Lanka has led to large-scale population displacement and pushed millions of people into a situation of chronic poverty. In the second half of 2008, the violence intensified, forcing an estimated 200 000 people to flee the fighting, including those who had been displaced several times. The conflict has increased the vulnerability of displaced households and of the communities hosting these groups.

In September 2008, the increasing violence caused staff from the United Nations (UN) and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to relocate from Kilinochchi (which had served as the base for humanitarian assistance to conflict-affected communities in the north of the country) to Vavuniya. This heightened the isolation of vulnerable families and there is concern that 100 000 IDPs, host families and others are resorting to unsustainable coping strategies.

In eastern districts, local and provincial elections in March and May 2008 contributed to a situation of relative stability. By October, 160 000 internally displaced people (IDPs) had been resettled, with a further 16 000 to 20 000 likely to follow in 2009. Recent assessments in Trincomalee and Batticaloa indicate that the coping mechanisms of many of the returnees have been stretched to their limit. The vulnerability of these households is compounded by their lack of access to essential agricultural inputs.

In response to the situation in the north and east of the country, the UN and its partners launched the 2009 Sri Lanka Common Humanitarian Action Plan (CHAP) on 14 February 2009, seeking USD 155.54 million to provide urgently needed assistance to affected populations.

Challenges facing food security and livelihoods

Agricultural production is the main livelihood activity for over one-third of Sri Lanka’s population. In the conflict-affected Vanni region in the north of the country, heavy fighting has meant that between 50 and 70 percent of viable agricultural land has been abandoned. This has seriously reduced the 2008 Maha season harvest and diminished food availability for vulnerable populations.

In 2008, the price of the country’s main staple food – rice – rose by about 80 percent, while that of wheat almost doubled. Similarly rising prices for fuel and agricultural inputs have increased the cost of cultivation for households already struggling to make ends meet. In 2009, it is likely that the IDPs in northern Sri Lanka will be crowded into smaller areas, placing unsustainable pressure on resources. It is thus essential that support be provided to enable them to resume agricultural production in a sustainable manner in order to minimize dependence on external food aid.

Considerable progress has been made in facilitating the return of IDPs in eastern Sri Lanka. However, about 15 000 recently returned IDPs urgently require farming, livestock production and fishing inputs in order to restart their livelihoods and engage in alternative income-generating opportunities to strengthen their purchasing power and cope with the increasing cost of food items.

FAO in Sri Lanka

In the immediate aftermath of the December 2004 tsunami, FAO established an Emergency and Rehabilitation Coordination Unit (ERCU) in Sri Lanka. At present, the Organization has five district offices in the north (Vavuniya, Mannar and Jaffna) and the east (Trincomalee and Batticaloa). In September, FAO staff in Mannar and Jaffna were relocated to Vavuniya, where they continue to provide essential support to households residing outside the active conflict area.

Since 2002, FAO has implemented over 23 emergency projects through its ERCU in close coordination with key Government counterparts and local and international NGOs (with a total budget of almost USD 33 million). Key activities have included:

  • support to the resumption of farming activities;
  • provision of essential agricultural inputs;
  • provision and repair of fishing boats, engines, nets, etc.;
  • support to the development of aquaculture;
  • introduction of alternative income-generating opportunities and coping mechanisms;
  • provision of animal vaccines; and
  • delivery of training in improved cultivation and post-harvest practices, among other activities.

Under the2009 CHAP for Sri Lanka, FAO is seeking USD 3.8 million to support vulnerable households in rebuilding their livelihoods. As the lead agency for agriculture and food security, FAO is carrying out a coordinated sector strategy in the north and east of the country in order to:

  1. ensure that urgently needed emergency agriculture inputs (quality seeds, tools and fertilizers) are delivered on time;
  2. assess and protect the assets of IDPs, vulnerable host families, returnee and resettled households in the north and east;
  3. support the efforts of international and local NGOs and community-based organizations (CBOs) to fill gaps, avoid duplication of efforts and complement humanitarian activities; and
  4. support the resumption of basic agricultural, livestock and fisheries activities towards a sustainable rural food security situation.

In collaboration with Government counterparts at the national and provincial levels, the sector ensures that an efficient monitoring framework is in place to collect vital food security information. Key sector objectives under the 2009 CHAP include:

  • restoring and strengthening household food security among resettled and conflict-affected families;
  • reducing dependence on external and unsustainable food aid assistance by supporting local food production; promoting alternative coping mechanisms and income-generating opportunities;
  • reducing the vulnerability of marginalized, women-headed households; and
  • reducing post-harvest losses and promoting efficient use of resources.