OCHA in 2009 Cover Download Hi-res PDF (6.4 MB)

Sri Lanka


  • Coordination and advocacy for improvements to conditions in IDP camps helped ensure life-saving support for nearly 300,000 people displaced during the final stages of the conflict.
  • Strengthened humanitarian coordination structures through inter-cluster mechanisms in Colombo and north Sri Lanka, which operated despite multiple constraints.
  • Effective transitional support provided to early recovery and longer-term development actors in the east in early 2009, with similar frameworks for transition planned for the north in 2010.

The humanitarian context changed significantly in early 2009, with the Government staging a major offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, announcing a military victory in May. The humanitarian consequences of this fighting were felt throughout the year as the hostilities triggered a huge exodus from the combat zones to different parts of the north, including Vavuniya, Mannar, Tricomalee and Jaffna. Humanitarian assistance focused strongly on meeting IDPs’ needs, but faced numerous challenges.

Insufficient land was available for camps, while IDPs faced overcrowding problems and weak health and education facilities. Organizations working in the field struggled to find enough staff and resources. Responding to changes in the situation, OCHA supported the HCT in compiling a summary of emergency priorities in Sri Lanka, highlighting the most urgent needs for IDPs and identifying projects totaling $52 million. OCHA helped elaborate a revised CHAP, which included projects to assist up to 100,000 people in support of Government plans to return the majority of IDPs to their places of origin before the end of the year.

Faced with a number of protection and access challenges, analysis and advocacy were central to OCHA’s efforts, including strengthening links between field operations, national level policies and international standards. High-level engagement and advocacy, including four visits from the ERC, maintained a focus on key humanitarian principles, particularly obligations to protect civilians under international humanitarian law.

In 2009, under the RC/HC’s leadership, OCHA supported inter-agency coordination at district and country levels through its country office in Colombo and four sub-offices in Vavuniya, Jaffna, Batticaloa and Trincomalee. The Vavuniya office was reinforced to support ongoing relief and protection needs in the north, while the offices in the east continued to monitor residual humanitarian needs and support the transition from humanitarian coordination to recovery and development structures.

OCHA facilitated contingency planning exercises, first focusing on security and displacement scenarios and then on preparations to mitigate vulnerabilities associated with the monsoon season for the displacement camps. OCHA also participated in a number of missions and led inter-agency assessments, first in the conflict areas to assess priority needs and later, as returns got underway, assessments to inform and support the return process.

OCHA continued to coordinate and support linkages between the Government and the humanitarian community. An OCHA-seconded Liaison Assistant provided direct support to the Minster of Disaster Management and Human Rights, while information capacity in the Ministry’s Disaster Management Center was strengthened through expertise, training and staffing resources to support mapping, reporting and assessments needs.

OCHA’s IMU generated a variety of products, including briefing packs, situation reports, mapping services, weekly reports, databases and contact directories. Work also continued on core OCHA tools including the 3Ws, the assessment database, meeting schedules, contacts directories and the humanitarian portal (www.hpsl.lk). As the focus on return and resettlement increased, the IMU, together with UNDP Mine Action, supported mapping the progress of planned resettlement and mine clearance. Collaboration with the Government’s Survey Department and the Urban Development Authority was also reinforced, and joint work was undertaken to review district and division level data.

Throughout 2009, OCHA supported the RC/HC in his overall coordination and advocacy role. Direct support was provided through an OCHA-funded spokesperson, who developed messages and strategies to ensure a common voice on key issues and challenges faced by conflict-affected and vulnerable people. As the cluster approach was established, OCHA worked closely with cluster leads to strengthen capacities, improve information sharing, plan and report. The clusters were crucial in supporting policy and operational decision-making, joint needs assessments, identifying gaps in assistance and funding priorities.

Strengthening UN/NGO partnerships was difficult due to evolving centralized Government decision-making policies. A stronger humanitarian response and effective transition to recovery will partly depend on maintaining an open dialogue with the Government and ensuring effective linkages and coordination structures.

In 2009, OCHA promoted the Inter-Agency Guidelines on Gender in Emergencies and Gender-Based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Settings. A GenCap Advisor undertook several missions to visit IDPs in camps in the north, advised on collection and analysis of sex- and age-disaggregated information, and provided a detailed review of the CHAP planning process and advised on gendered aspects of the response. The GenCap Advisor also supported preparation of the OCHA Sri Lanka Gender Action Plan.

Operations in Sri Lanka are increasingly set to be refocused on early recovery and longer-term development initiatives. OCHA played a central role in this transition by emphasizing support for the return and reintegration of IDPs, while ensuring continued assistance to those still in camps in the north. OCHA’s Batticaloa office closed in June, with staff and assets transitioning to support the UNDP Early Recovery Coordinator’s office in the east. The Trincomalee office closed at the end of 2009, with staff reassigned to support operations in the northern districts.