Tsunami aid lands for survivors, unborns
A multinational force of aid workers, military aircraft and ships descended
on Asia as global tsunami relief pledges topped $1.85 billion, but the hundreds
of tons of aid created a logistical nightmare.
Military bases in Singapore, untouched by the tsunami, opened their gates to store emergency supplies in warehouses.
Aid officials, often unaware of what aid was coming until the aircraft doors opened, urged donors to let them know in advance what they were flying in.
Across the Indian Ocean region, they battled to coordinate efforts to help millions left homeless by the massive waves, unleashed by an undersea quake, that killed over 124,000 people.
Indonesia has called an international summit for January 6 to discuss how best to cope with the tsunami relief operation, one of the biggest humanitarian aid campaigns in history.
Supplies that had been stacked up at the airport in Aceh's capital, Banda Aceh, for want of onward transport, were reaching the city itself to which many survivors have fled. Ample supplies of eggs, rice, noodles and biscuits were seen at one camp.
Little, though, was making it by land to people in remoter areas. U.S. Sea Hawk helicopters from aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln sent to the region to help out joined military aircraft from Australia and Singapore in airlifts of aid.
Banda Aceh airport can handle large military aircraft due to a long-running secessionist conflict, but with only one runway it was groaning under the weight of round-the-clock operations by the giant Antonov and C-130 transporters.
"The aircraft going in and going out are just taxing the capacity to the very limit," Michael Elmquist, head of the U.N. disaster relief operation in Indonesia, told Reuters on Saturday.
The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said it planned to begin airlifting 400 tons of shelter and emergency supplies into Aceh from warehouses in Copenhagen and Dubai starting on Sunday.
It said its airlift would meet the needs of some 100,000 people in the ravaged province.
Elmquist said a lack of telecommunications meant relief workers had no advance idea what aid was landing but luckily the aid was so far essential items like medicines, food and water.
A lack of fuel for aid trucks was also a big problem in Aceh, said the United Nations. A convoy of 26 trucks carrying fuel was on its way to Banda Aceh.
ISLANDS SWAMPED WITH AID
In Sri Lanka, the worst-hit nation after Indonesia, the United States is dispatching up to 1,500 marines and a mini aircraft carrier with some 20 helicopters to assist in relief and reconstruction of the island where more than 28,000 died.
The first group of 200 marines from a U.S. base on Okinawa is set to land in the southern port town of Galle Monday.
Aid officials at Colombo said emergency supplies were starting to pour out of the airport, but trucks were still having trouble reaching survivors due to flooded and downed bridges.
"We have a handle on it now," said Chris Weeks, head of the relief operation at Colombo airport, adding 517 tons of aid had landed in two days and was now being quickly loaded onto trucks.
"We are running a cargo and truck operation, so there is a flow -- this is how we run a commercial operation."
Weeks said smaller trucks were being used to move aid around damaged and badly congested roads and Italian sea planes would be used to reach coastal areas in the east and north.
"Because some roads are closed it is clogging up other roads," he said. "Sending out big trucks is the worst thing you can do, they get stuck and you don't see them for a week."
India says it needs no foreign aid and can handle relief domestically, but still foreign air workers stream in.
In the Maldives, the sheer number of islands, 200, was its own logistical nightmare and the capital's airport, on an island flooded by the tsunami, can only operate fully by day.
In Thailand, teams of forensic experts try to identify thousands of rotting corpses, many of them foreigners, but aid groups said they were having problems finding enough formalin to try and preserve bodies in the tropical heat.
AID FOR NEXT GENERATION
Aid was also flowing in for Asia's next generation of tsunami survivors, the thousands of unborn children.
There are at least 150,000 pregnant women in tsunami-hit areas who may face complications, including trauma-induced miscarriage, and need urgent medical and nutritional support, said the U.N. population agency (UNFPA).
"Over 50,000 women within the affected communities will give birth in the next three months," said UNFPA in a statement.
"The damage to health facilities and loss of basic delivery care supplies has jeopardized their chances to deliver under clean and safe circumstances," it said.
The UNFPA was supplying $3 million for basic maternity and hygiene kits for women, which will include soap for washing hands, a piece of plastic sheeting to lay on the ground, a clean razor blade for cutting the umbilical cord, a piece of string for tying it, and a cloth to wrap the baby in.