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1/3 of tsunami dead are children

Updated: 2004-12-29 08:52

The buzz of grim conversation in the darkened morgue was broken by a man's shriek as the small body was lowered on a bed. "My son, my king!" wailed Venkatesh, hugging the limp shrouded bundle. Thousands of miles away in Indonesia, farmer Yusya Yusman aimlessly searched the beaches for his two children lost in Sunday's tsunami.

"My life is over," he said emotionlessly.

In country after country, children have emerged as the biggest victims of Sunday's quake-born tidal waves: thousands and thousands drowned, battered and washed away by huge walls of water that have swept away huge numbers from an entire generation of Asians.

"The power of this earthquake, and its huge geographical reach, are just staggering," said UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) Executive Director Carol Bellamy. Hundreds of thousands of children who managed to survive in the affected coastal communities now "may be in serious jeopardy," she added.

An Indian child drinks water at a relief camp Tuesday in the southern Indian city of Madras, which was hit by Sunday's tidal waves. [Reuters]

The UN organization estimates at least one-third of the tens of thousands who died were children, and the proportion could be up to half, said UNICEF spokesman Alfred Ironside in New York.

He said communities are suffering a double loss: dead children and orphaned boys and girls. "Our major concern is that the kids who survived the tsunami now survive the aftermath. Because children are the most vulnerable to disease and lack of proper nutrition and water."

Children make up at least half of the population in Asia.

"They got caught and could not run to safety. This is the reason why we have so many child victims," said Rienzie Perera, a police spokesman who said reports from affected police stations indicated children made up about half the victims in Sri Lanka.

Unimagined grief

On Monday, parents wept over the bodies of their children in streets and hospitals across the island, even as some dead children still dangled unclaimed from barbed wire fences.

The scenes of unimagined grief and mourning were repeated across Asia. "Where are my children?" wept 41-year-old Absah, as she searched for her 11 missing children in Banda Aceh, the Indonesian city closest to Sunday's epicenter. "Where are they? Why did this happen to me? I've lost everything."

On the day disaster struck, Malaysian Rosita Wan recalled watching in horror as her 5-year-old son was gulped by the sea while he swam near the shore at Penang. "I could only watch helplessly while I heard my son screaming for help. Then he was underwater and I never saw him again," said a sobbing Rosita, 30.

About half of the nearly 400 people who perished in Cuddalore in India's Tamil Nadu state were children, leaving the town stunned. Under Hindu tradition, children are buried instead of being cremated like adults.

For the grim task in Cuddalore, two pits, together about half the size of a basketball court, were dug near a river at the edge of this coconut palm-fringed town. After one couple laid the body of their daughter in the deep pit, a bulldozer shoveled in sand and the little girl disappeared from view. They then stepped aside for others to bury their children, denied any chance for a service or private mourning.

Most of the children, ages 5-12, were buried as they were found: in their Sunday clothes and without the luxury of a shroud.

Local officials wanted to quickly finish the burial, and the cremation of adult victims, so they could turn their attention to helping those left alive.

"There will be a time for crying, but that will come later. Now the priority is to shelter those who survived," said fisherman Akilan, 28. Akilan uses only one name.

South Korean Red Cross volunteers in Suwon, South of Seoul, organize emergency relief kits to be sent to Indonesia for victimes of the weekend's quake-triggered tsunami. [Reuters]

Biggest UN relief drive

The tsunami is likely to present the United Nations with its biggest and costliest relief effort, the UN emergency relief coordinator said on Monday.

It will take "many billions of dollars" and a number of years to bury the dead, battle disease and recover from the wall of water, said Jan Egeland, who heads the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

While the deadly wave on Sunday may not have been the largest ever recorded, it probably will have the biggest impact of any natural disaster in the five decades that the United Nations has been co-ordinating the global response to such disasters because it struck so many heavily populated areas, Egeland told reporters.

Hundreds of relief planes packed with emergency goods will be heading for the region from some two dozen countries within the next 48 hours, he said.

But the aid effort will require a generous response from individuals as well as governments around the world, he said.

Nations pledge cash, aid

Countries around the globe have stepped forward with pledges of cash and assistance to the victims of the southern Asian earthquake and tsunami disaster.

The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs has said it will take "many billions of dollars" for rescue, recovery and rebuilding efforts.

The following is a list of contributions pledged, as compiled from reports.

AUSTRALIA: Australia sent four air force transport planes with supplies and medical specialists to the western Indonesian island of Sumatra and committed US$7.6 million to the international relief effort.

BELGIUM: The government is sending a military airbus with 22 tons of aid from Medecins Sans Frontieres and UNICEF to Sri Lanka.

BRITAIN: London sent an aircraft with plastic sheets and tents worth 250,000 pounds (US$481,500) to Sri Lanka. It said it was contributing 370,000 (US$712,000) pounds to the EU aid effort and a further US$100,000 to the World Health Organization for relief efforts.

CANADA: Canada said it would make an initial contribution of 1 million Canadian dollars (US$814,300) to an appeal for some US$6.5 million by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

CHINA: The government will offer 21.6 million yuan (US$2.6 mi-llion) worth of emergency huma-nitarian aid to India, Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Maldives,

CZECH REPUBLIC: Prague dispatched a plane to Sri Lanka with drinking water. Officials said overall aid worth US$444,400 would be sent.

EUROPEAN UNION: The European Commission pledged 3 million euros (US$4.06 million) and said it could mobilize up to 30 million euros (US$4.06 million) for rapid distribution to aid groups.

FRANCE: Foreign Minister Michel Barnier is heading to Sri Lanka and Thailand on a flight carrying aid. Paris has earmarked 100,000 euros (US$135,000) for initial rescue efforts in Thailand and has sent a plane with about 100 rescue workers and five tons of aid to Sri Lanka.

GERMANY: Germany said it was contributing 1 million euros (US$1.35 million) of emergency aid to the international effort and taking part in the EU programme. It sent a disaster relief team to Sri Lanka.

GREECE: Greece has offered Sri Lanka medical assistance, including 17 doctors and staff.

ISRAEL: Israel sent a medical team with medicines and equipment to Sri Lanka and another to Thailand. It also planned to send a military search and rescue team to Sri Lanka.

JAPAN: Japan will provide around US$30 million in aid to countries hit by an Indian Ocean tsunami that killed more than 29,000 people, and will send three navy vessels to waters off Thailand to help rescue survivors.

KUWAIT: The Kuwaiti cabi-net agreed to send aid supplies worth US$1 million to the affected region.

NETHERLANDS: The Nether-lands said it was contributing 2 million euros (US$2.7 million) to the Red Cross-Red Crescent appeal, above and beyond its participation in the overall EU programme.

SINGAPORE: Singapore said it would contribute around US$1.2 million to the global effort, and had armed forces medical teams and relief supplies ready to fly to Indonesia.

SPAIN: Madrid is sending a plane with first aid and sanitary equipment to Sri Lanka. It has promised 1 million euros (US$1.35 million) for aid and planes.

SWEDEN: Sweden sent two communications specialists to help UN relief efforts in Sri Lanka, and said it was sending tents and communications equipment to the Maldives. The Swedish Red Cross said it would contribute US$750,000 to the global IFRC appeal.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: The government pledged US$2 million in aid and its Red Crescent was planning to send three plane-loads of aid.

UNITED STATES: The United States said it planned to provide an initial US$15 million in aid and had already released US$100,000 each to India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. It said the US Pacific Command had sent three patrol aircraft to assess damage.

IMF: The head of the Interna-tional Monetary Fund said he intended to provide assistance.

UNHCR: The UN's refugee agency said it was providing homeless in Sri Lanka with 18,000 pieces of plastic sheeting, 17,000 plastic mats, rope and non-food relief packages for 2,000 families.

UNICEF: It was distributing clothing and more than 30,000 blankets and sleeping mats in Sri Lanka and 1,600 water tanks, 30,000 blankets, medical supplies and hundreds of thousands of water purification pills in India.

UN DEVELOPMENT PRO-GRAMME: The UNDP provided US$100,000 each to Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, the Maldives and Thailand to help them assess and co-ordinate emergency needs.