Friday, December 31, 2004

Aid Trickes to Tsunami victims

Aid trickles to tsunami victims
Thu Dec 30, 2004 02:30 PM GMT
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BANGKOK (Reuters) - Hundreds of tonnes of emergency supplies of tarpaulins, water purification systems, food and medicines are pouring into Asia but little is reaching injured, sick and hungry tsunami survivors.

Some survivors have seen no aid since the tsunami struck on Sunday due to the inaccessibility of the worst hit areas, cut off from the outside world by flooding and downed bridges, and the sheer magnitude of the disaster affecting many countries.

Aid started pouring into Indonesia only to stop at the airport due to a lack of fuel for trucks to move it.

Rescue workers were still struggling to reach some cut off areas and many have been too busy recovering the thousands of disfigured and bloated corpses to help deliver aid.

The United Nations admits only a fraction of aid is getting to where it is needed as the death toll rose above 120,000.

"We are doing very little at the moment," U.N. emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland acknowledged in New York. The United Nations estimates up to 5 million people need aid.

"It will take maybe 48 to 72 hours more to be able to respond to the tens of thousands of people who would like to have assistance today -- or yesterday, rather," he said. "I believe the frustration will be growing in the days and the weeks ahead."

The tsunami relief operation from Indonesia to Sri Lanka to Somalia is one of the biggest humanitarian exercises in history, with 60 nations having pledged over $220 million (115 million pounds) in cash and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of emergency supplies.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) launched an appeal on Thursday for $59 million.

"The scale of this disaster is growing by the hour. The devastation is unimaginable," IFRC secretary general Markku Niskala said in Switzerland, adding that the money would provide emergency relief for two million people.

Oxfam said national aid groups were "rising to the challenge", but called on the United Nations to lead the way.

"Given the scale and scope of this crisis, strong U.N. leadership is critical," said Jasmine Whitbread, the international director of the British-based charity.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan cut short a holiday to oversee the relief operation from New York. The United Nations will launch a major appeal on January 6.


In Indonesia, the worst-hit nation accounting for more than half the dead, aircraft dropped some food to isolated areas in Aceh on the west coast of Sumatra, closest to the epicentre which caused the tsunami.

But aid was only trickling into Aceh, where hungry crowds jostled for biscuits.

Indonesia has told the United Nations that cargo helicopters are a priority so supplies can be flown into isolated areas. Australia said it would send a giant Antonov cargo aircraft carrying three helicopters to Indonesia.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates 80 percent of Aceh's west coast has been damaged and says only one hospital is operating in a province without electricity or fuel and where many roads are impassable. The U.N. plans to airlift emergency shelter into Aceh for up to 100,000 people.

"Much of Aceh, which was closest to the epicentre of the earthquake, has been levelled and the local population urgently needs shelter and basic living supplies," said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers.


Aid officials say the next stage of the tsunami disaster could be the spread of deadly diseases like cholera, through contaminated water, which could double the death toll.

Many aid groups have focused on supplying clean water, flying in tonnes of water purification systems and tablets, which can supply drinkable water for at least a month.

CARE Indonesia said it planned to distribute 100,000 safe water system bottles. A few caps of chlorine solution will disinfect about 20 litres of polluted water.

U.S., Japanese and Australian naval ships were steaming towards the disaster area with onboard hospitals and water desalination plants. Seven of the U.S. ships can produce 90,000 gallons of fresh water a day and one ship can deploy a field hospital ashore when it arrives in Thailand in about a week.

In Sri Lanka, doctors said survivors were becoming ill.

"People in the refugee camps are falling sick," said M. Rodrigo, district secretary in Trincomalee, in the northeast. "They need medicine more than food and clothing right now."

Malaria and dengue fever are endemic in southeast Asia and flooding and stagnant, polluted water left by the tsunami will create ideal conditions for mosquitoes to spread the diseases.

At Colombo's airport, aircraft with tonnes of much needed foreign aid were landing. The Red Cross said it had sent several flights to Sri Lanka carrying enough emergency supplies for 120,000 and that it was housing some 40,000 people in 66 camps.

But like Indonesia's Aceh province, few tsunami survivors in Sri Lanka were receiving government or foreign aid, with most relief being delivered by religious groups and locals.

"The government has done nothing for us so far. Everything you see happening here is being done by the local community," said Mohammed Tamir, who lost his wife and daughter.

© Reuters 2004. All Rights Reserved.


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