|© REUTERS/Nir Elias|
|A year-old girl who was injured in the conflict in north-eastern Sri Lanka sits on a hospital bed as her mother stands nearby. Over the years, violence in Sri Lanka has killed and injured thousands of children.|
NEW YORK, USA, 18 March 2009 – In a statement issued yesterday, UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman expressed alarm at the high number of children affected by continuing violence in the northern area of Sri Lanka known as the Vanni.
"Hundreds of children have been killed and many more injured as a result of the conflict in Sri Lanka," Veneman said. "Thousands are now at risk because of a critical lack of food, water and medicines."
More than 150,000 people are currently trapped by fighting between government troops and the rebel group known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE.
"Regular, safe access for humanitarian agencies is urgently required, so that lifesaving supplies can be provided, and civilians must be allowed to move to safe areas where essential humanitarian support is more readily available," Veneman added.
40,000 have escaped
Around 40,000 people have been able to escape the conflict zone, and humanitarian groups are rushing to assist them.
|Girls at play in a schoolyard in Sri Lanka, where school has been disrupted for many children in conflict areas.|
"UNICEF, other UN agencies and partners have been rapidly setting up toilets, getting proper sanitation and providing clean water," said UNICEF Sri Lanka Chief of Communication James Elder. "We're also supporting hospitals who, of course, are overcrowded with the injured."
Elder said there are over 500 pregnant women among the displaced; UNICEF is supplying pregnancy kits for them. If the fighting continues, the number of children and women in need could increase exponentially in the coming weeks.
Rights of children compromised
Even temporary displacement can have a massive impact on children's health and development. UNICEF is working to mitigate the effects of school disruptions and the adverse psychological effects caused by exposure to violence in Sri Lankan conflict areas.
Veneman urged all sides in the conflict to prevent civilian casualties and respect the rights of children.
"Children are the innocent victims of Sri Lanka's conflict," she said. "They desperately need assistance and extraordinary efforts must be taken to protect them."