Helping the IDPs

It is right that we, and the rest of the world in general should be deeply concerned about the well being of a population of some 200,000 people caught up in a maelstrom not of their making. These men, women and children streaming from one set of camps to another need to be housed, clothed, fed and medically cared for. This is not a new experience in the world and we saw a great deal of it and much worse in the Balkans in Europe and it is almost everyday life in many parts of Africa. The costs involved and the logistics of these operations are common knowledge among many. The efforts of all of us both here and overseas can put some of that experience and some resources together to lessen to some degree the obvious suffering these people will go through. On second hand evidence, the army is doing a splendid job carrying babies and consoling them, helping the infirm to move and tending with care, the sick. But they all need help and a lot of it, right now.

The Government is very short of money. Revenue receipts will fall this year as economic activity winds down. Borrowing whether locally or overseas is not an alternative currently available to the government. The most productive way the rest of the world can help these multitudes is to find the resources as grants to be spent for the resettlement and rehabilitation of these 200,000 people.

Let us do some elementary arithmetic. Each person in the camps will cost US$ 1,500 per month to maintain, that is US$18,000 per year. Multiply that by 200,000 and you need $3.6 billion per year and over two years you need $7.2 billion. Initially, a large part of this sum, perhaps, $250 million ($5,000 times 50,000 household units) will be required to put up temporary housing including sanitary facilities and camp hospitals. The children must be taught even in makeshift schools. The rest of the money will be dispersed at regular intervals. China, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and all oil exporting Gulf States possess some US$5 trillion in foreign reserves. US$7.2 billion is 0.14 percent of these reserves, a tiny fraction of their annual earnings, say of 5 percent, on these investments. What the rest of the world can do is to find ways of providing those resources, as grants. Much of the wailing overseas about appaling conditions in north-east Sri Lanka, without looking for practical measures of help, is breast beating on a grandstand.

There are a lot of experienced people who worked in Serbia, Albania, Kosovo, Darfur, and Goma who can contribute to the work in hand. Our reasonable suspicion of the mala fides of some international NGOs must not prejudice us from gaining from their experience. The costs of the work of NGOs must be borne by them and the workers must be managed by those who pay them, while they work to a programme designed and implemented by the government here. If there is waste and corruption on the part of NGOs, as there was during post-tsunami reconstruction, it will be the responsibility of the NGOs and not of the government of Sri Lanka.


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