Australian NGO Director warns of Humanitarian Disaster in the absence of foreign aid workers

[TamilNet, Sunday, 14 September 2008, 09:42 GMT]
The extreme humanitarian situation of Internally Displaced Persons, including thousands of children, who are already malnourished, would deteriorate dramatically as clean water is not available for all the IDPs and they have been deprived of medicine by the Sri Lankan government, said Executive Director Paul O'Callaghan of the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), which has 25 member organisations working in Sri Lanka over many decades. He has expressed fear of a blood bath as foreign aid workers of UN agencies and NGOs packed their bags following the orders by the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) to leave the Vanni region last week.

Paul O’Callaghan
Paul O’Callaghan, Executive Director of the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID)
"Apart from the direct military conflict we would expect that many, many people will die or be in extreme circumstances if humanitarian workers are not able to access this area," Mr. Paul O'Callaghan told Australia's ABC Radio last week, after Colombo's decision to exclude foreign workers.

According to UN estimates, 40% of all children in the North are currently malnourished and don't have access to any prospect of food, he noted.

In response to the GoSL's statement that it did not want to see a repeat of the 2006 massacre of 17 local aid workers employed by French agency Action Contre La Faim, Mr O'Callaghan said the circumstances of that incident were never clear and reiterated that by clearing Tamil areas of foreign aid agencies the GoSL is also ensuring no independent sources exist to comment on ground realities. "If you exclude all foreign humanitarian workers then you won't have any, not only the immediate support for those communities but also those who can actually see what's happening on the ground," he said. Accusing the GoSL of having received the highest number of complaints of any government in the United Nations Human Rights Commission over recent years, O'Callaghan said the GoSL had as result been reviewed recently by the commission. In response, the GoSL had made commitments to the commission only a few weeks ago to protect civilians.

"[The GoSL] undertook at that point to make special efforts to ensure that the situation for citizens who are not involved in the conflict would be taken care of, and that those citizens would be able to be safe and obtain food and water and medicine and so on," he told ABC Radio Australia, and added that it is worrying to see the GoSL's change in policy after only recently pledging to protect civilians.

"So this does worry us - that we could see very quickly a very large scale disaster occurring, quite apart if you like from what the civil war is directly involved in," he concluded.

ACFID is an independent national association of Australian NGOs working in the field of international aid and development. Paul O'Callaghan, who is the Executive Director of ACFID, also serves on the Foreign Minister’s Aid Advisory Council, is a member of the National Nonprofit Roundtable and the Australian Collaboration and is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Management. While in government (1982–2000), he served as Australia’s High Commissioner in Samoa (1997–2000) and had earlier diplomatic appointments in Malaysia and Thailand.


Chronology:


External Links:
ABC: Sri Lanka orders aid agencies out of north

 

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