In 2012, Sri Lanka continued its recovery from a 25-year conflict that ended in 2009. By the end of 2012, over 467,000 people, including 267,865 people displaced during the conflict’s final stages, returned to the Northern Province. The last battle areas in Mullaitivu district were released after demining in May. Over 275,000 people from Menik Farm, previously one of the world’s largest IDP camps, returned in September. Farming and other livelihood activities, such as fishing, have resumed on the northern and eastern coasts, and the Government initiated a large-scale programme to rehabilitate roads, ports and other infrastructure.
Land previously used by the military in Jaffna District’s High-Security Zone was released, paving the way for families to reclaim their land after nearly 20 years. Some 670 people reportedly returned to these areas in 2012. Despite this progress, humanitarian and protection challenges remain, with groups of returnees still unable to access their land.
According to UNHCR, an estimated 115,000 IDPs, mainly people displaced before April 2008, are yet to be resettled. In addition, the Government identified a group of 26,000 displaced Moslems who also await return. A joint UN-Government plan to undertake a nationwide study to chart the needs and intentions (to return or not) of remaining IDPs is still being negotiated with the Government.
In February 2012, OCHA facilitated the launch of the JPA to address the residual needs of IDPs and returnees in the Northern Province. The plan was a collaborative effort between the Government, UN and international and local NGOs. The challenge of maintaining donor attention on humanitarian and early recovery needs was evidenced by low levels of funding of the JPA: it received less than 27 per cent of the requested US$147 million. Other fundraising challenges included a shift in donor attention from humanitarian to development assistance, Sri Lanka’s new middle-income status and increasing competition for funding for other crises in the world.
Given the evolving humanitarian situation, the HCT reduced the number of participants in the team, while maintaining inclusive representation to improve dialogue and decision-making. The frequency and level of participation in cluster meetings fell in line with diminishing humanitarian needs and a refocus on long-term development.
In August 2012, an independent cluster review was carried out that, among other proposals, recommended the deactivation of all clusters by the end of 2012. Cluster leads submitted transition papers to the HCT formally announcing the cluster leadership transition to relevant Government ministries and agencies. By the end of 2012, the WASH, Health and Nutrition, Education and Mine Action clusters handed over leadership and responsibilities accordingly. The UNDAF was agreed as the main follow-on mechanism to address any residual humanitarian coordination needs and to transition to development activities. A Durable Solutions Policy Group continues the work of the Protection Cluster with the HCT.
Throughout the year, OCHA continued to invest in natural disaster preparedness and response efforts, working closely with the Government’s Disaster Management Center (DMC). In addition to ongoing support for contingency planning and information management within the DMC, OCHA supported a desk review of progress on the 2011 UNDAC disaster preparedness mission recommendations to inform future areas of cooperation. The review was presented as a best practice at the fifth Asian Ministerial Conference held in Indonesia in October 2012. It will be built on to inform 2013 collaboration with the DMC.
OCHA also brokered an important agreement with the Sri Lankan Survey Department on digital data dissemination to support data-preparedness efforts. The agreement allows open access to Government geographical data for disaster management purposes.
OCHA has communicated its intention to systematically transition from a full country office to a Humanitarian Advisory Team (HAT) by 2014, and it is working on the transition process and planning. A critical part of this preparation will be the development of a baseline through a joint vulnerability needs assessment. This will quantify residual humanitarian and coordination needs, requirements for information sharing and information products, and support for natural disaster preparedness. Transition to the HAT will include improved support to the Government in accessing regional and international emergency response tools for future disasters. The HAT will support the Red Cross Movement and local and international NGOs and INGOs, and coordinate with the Sri Lanka UNDAF.