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The challenge of suicide prevention

Alarge military truck slowly rolls up to the small emergency unit in Mullaitivu, a remote town on the north-eastern coast of Sri Lanka. In the back of the truck are two bodies. A young man and woman still entwined. Tied to each other with muddied strips of saree cotton, once vibrant and colourful. A double suicide pact outlined in a simple letter in the hands of the farmer who stumbled across their bodies in a jungle clearing. An illegal marriage across castes, an unborn child, chronic pain from shelling injuries sustained over decades of civil war. Deaths of loved ones, dire job prospects and the vision of life ahead lived in abject poverty have proved too much for the young couple.

In early 2009, Mullaitivu was the last stronghold of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the site of the last land battle between the Sri Lanka Army and the Tamil Tigers. Today, as the last of the government internment camps close down, it is home to thousands of newly resettled internally displaced people struggling to rebuild their lives under UNHCR-administered tarpaulin and four timber poles per family. A small government grant covers basic costs for the first few months, after which meagre compensation is only available for those with significant war-related disabilities — multiple amputations, paraplegia, head injuries.…