Sri Lanka UN launches 50 million appeal for growing mass of displaced

The number of people seeking shelter in makeshift government camps rose from 65,000 to almost 190,000 in just a few days following a mass exodus from the conflict zone when government forces breached the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) defences on 20 April. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that around 50,000 people remain trapped in the conflict zone, a shrinking pocket of land on the north-east coast line.“It’s a critical time,” stressed UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Sri Lanka Neil Buhne. “Around a quarter of under 5 year-olds in the camps are under-nourished, and they need immediate help. Tens of thousands more civilians are expected to come from the remaining zone.” The appeal to fund emergency relief aid targets the most urgent humanitarian needs for an estimated 250,000 people, including food, water, sanitation, shelter, nutrition, health and protection, as well as educational requirements for thousands of children who have been without schooling for months during the escalating conflict.Last week, hundreds of people who had escaped the fighting more than a year ago returned home last week to the Mannar district and the appeal includes agricultural and economic projects to support similar returns. The Government says that it intends to return 80 per cent of the displaced to their homes by the end of 2009. The $50 million appeal for immediate relief and recovery efforts is an adjusted figure extracted from the Common Humanitarian Action Plan request for $155 million, launched in March in anticipation of the evolving humanitarian crisis. Less than one third of that appeal has been funded.Meanwhile, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he spoke to President Mahinda Rajapaksa today and called for a pause in the fighting to allow humanitarian workers into the conflict zone.“This would allow more desperately needed aid, above all food and medicines, to get in,” Mr. Ban told reporters in New York. “It will save lives.”He also urged Government authorities to avoid the use of artillery and heavy weaponry in the conflict zone. “I have also appealed to the LTTE to let civilians go and stop forced recruitment,” he added.“Protecting civilians and respecting international humanitarian law, must be priority one. The world is watching events closely, including for violations of international law.” 5 May 2009The United Nations and Government of Sri Lanka today announced the launch of a $50 million appeal to meet the urgent humanitarian needs of the rising number of desperate civilians fleeing the fighting in the north between the army and Tamil separatist rebels. read more

Topped up your RRSP contributions Think twice before spending that tax refund

OTTAWA — You might be feeling pretty good about that contribution to the RRSP account and may be daydreaming a little about how you’re going to spend the tax refund.[np_storybar title=”The pros — and perils — of making early withdrawals from your RRSP” link=””%5D There is a case to be made for withdrawing from your RRSP early. Here’s how to know when to start a ‘strategic RRSP drawdown.’ Read on [/np_storybar]But investment experts say people should think twice before blowing that cheque from the government on a new television or a quick weekend getaway.“What you have to remember is that it’s not actually a windfall, it is money that you’ve paid in taxes that you’re getting back for funding your retirement,” said Larry Moser, divisional manager for BMO Investorline.He said people need a strategy for the money, whether it is investing it or paying down debt, depending on financial circumstances.For those with high-interest debt, such as credit card debt, Moser says that would top his list for uses of a tax refund.When making an RRSP contribution, people aren’t avoiding tax on their contributions, they’re only delaying it. The advantage comes from the tax sheltered growth and it is likely people will be in a lower tax bracket in retirement when they withdraw the money than when they earned it.“The idea is to grow your money in a tax-free environment for as long as possible,” Moser said.Watch out for these three potential pitfalls when planning your RRSP investmentsYou can tap your RRSP to buy a first home — but be carefulFP’s exclusive 15-year mutual fund review tablesHowever, advisers say people need to remember that they will pay tax on the money when it is withdrawn. That means $100 in an RRSP does not necessarily mean $100 in your pocket when you take the money out of the account in retirement.Personal finance author Talbot Stevens says investors need to understand the difference between before-tax and after-tax dollars when it comes to their RRSP accounts.He says if they don’t put the equivalent before-tax amount in their RRSP, they are investing less than they think.“We need people to realize that if they are going to spend their RRSP refund, as almost everyone does, you’re putting in less than you thought,” said Stevens, author of the Smart Debt Coach.Even something that doesn’t seem like a lot of money right now, it could end up being a lot of money in the futureStevens recommends people invest their tax refund and more to help make up the difference, suggesting that Canadians need to top up their RRSP contributions by 25 per cent to 100 per cent.A poll done for BMO found that 33 per cent of Canadians who expect to receive a tax refund after making an RRSP contribution will save or invest the money. Other top uses included paying down a mortgage (16 per cent), home renovations (14 per cent) and travel or leisure items (13 per cent).Moser said a $2,000 tax refund might not seem like a lot of money in terms of your retirement, but if you reinvest it every year it will add up.“Even something that doesn’t seem like a lot of money right now, it could end up being a lot of money in the future,” he said.The BMO survey was conducted by Pollara with an online sample of Canadians between Feb. 22 and 24.The polling industry’s professional body, the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, says online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population. Illustration by Chloe Cushman read more