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Tsunami survivors need help
Updated: 2005-01-04 10:46

The immediate needs are food, water and shelter, but in the weeks and months to come, survivors are going to need help rebuilding their communities.

Eight days after a giant tsunami struck Asia, relief workers faced many difficulties in Indonesia's Aceh Province as a US$2-billion operation to help disaster victims fought to get off the ground.

Donations are plentiful and people from around the world have come together in an unprecedented show of support, but sometimes nature and heavily damaged infrastructure are making things difficult.

Local aid officials said that despite their best intentions, some donors were clogging up the distribution network with items that are not really needed.

Problems were cropping up around the affected areas as a relief effort of unprecedented scaled picked up steam in areas hit by the largest natural disaster in almost three decades.

"In many cases people are being supplied with things they don't immediately need," said John Carlton, of ActionFast in Sri Lanka. "We have bags and bags of pepper, for example, which simply isn't a necessity and is taking up space."

Although there was still little sign of an organized relief effort, food distribution appeared to be going smoothly in most areas.

Aid workers struggled to help thousands huddled in makeshift camps in the province in northern Sumatra where two thirds of the 14,4000 killed across the region died, and to reach remote areas after roads and airstrips were washed away.

Aid for hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans made homeless by the Indian Ocean tsunamis was pouring in as newspapers have been highlighting what items are needed most -- water purification units, plastic sheeting, pots and other cooking utensils -- and printing details of what shipments have arrived in the country.

Brazil, for example, has sent 8 tonnes of canned foods -- which are in plentiful supply in Sri Lanka anyway -- while the United Stated had pledged a consignment of tinned fish from India, Japan and China.

But more practical items are also starting to arrive, such as medical kits and generators from Thailand, which is struggling to deal with the effects of the tsunami itself. Logjams began to ease at Asian airports bursting with hundreds of tonnes of emergency supplies but relief workers faced a logistical nightmare in distributing them. "It's absolute chaos," said Titon Mitra of CARE International, which is running 14 survivor camps in Aceh.

The same bleak picture of infrastructure destruction faced aid workers in Sri Lanka, the second worst-hit nation with nearly 30,000 dead, said Margareta Wahlstrom, the United Nations special envoy responsible for tsunami relief.

The UN said 1.8 million survivors needed food across the region but the world's response in money and resources gave grounds for hope as dehydration, disease and hunger threatened to add to the already huge death toll.

World Bank president James Wolfensohn said his agency could double or triple the US$250 million it has promised for regional re-construction, and would also be looking at debt relief for the poor nations worst affected by the disaster.

Hundreds of fresh foreign troops were pouring into Aceh in a race to stop the outbreak of killer diseases as disturbing reports surfaced of trafficking in orphans from the disaster, triggered by a huge earthquake off Sumatra on December 26.


Aid agencies said there was an urgent need to supply people with the means to re-build their own lives.

"If we just feed them today, what happens to them tomorrow?" asked CARE's Rajani. "The immediate needs are food, water and shelter, but in the weeks and months to come, we are going to have to help the survivors rebuild their communities."

UNICEF said it sought to raise US$81 million to help an estimated 1.5 million children affected by the tsunami in Asia, many now orphans.

One third of the dead are believed to be children, too small or weak to survive the giant walls of water, it said. UNICEF said there was an urgent need to normalize the lives of children who had seen so much death and destruction and it was trying to re-unite them with families and to re-open schools. "The simple process of attending school is a key step in returning a sense of normalcy to the lives of children affected by emergencies," it said.

India's toll of dead and feared dead neared 15,000.

And then, there is the human side of the disaster and desperation begins to seep in.

Tempers flared in the remote Andaman and Nicobar islands, where outside access was still being restricted while hundreds of bodies lay decomposing in the sun. International attention

US Secretary of State Colin Powell and Jeb Bush, the American president's brother, headed to the region yesterday to help assess re-construction needs.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is due in Indonesia on Thursday, where he is expected to appeal for more relief at a world aid conference.

One US senator said Washington may eventually spend billions of dollars helping Asia recover.

In Thailand, where the known death toll is close to 5,000, teams searching for bodies zeroed in on the hardest hit areas as Thai and Japanese navy ships scoured the seas for more dead.

Rescue teams expected to finish clearing bodies from Phi Phi island, famous for the film "The Beach," after retrieving 50-60 rotting corpses on Sunday, Interior Minister Bhokin Bhalakula told reporters.

They would now concentrate on devastated areas of Phang Nga province north of Phuket island. Investment bank JP Morgan said some of Thailand's prime tourist areas had been devastated, and forecast that the economy would see no growth in the first quarter of 2005, against an earlier predicted 3 per cent rise.

Nearly 4,000 people are still missing in Thailand, including more than 1,600 foreigners, many of them Scandinavians. Hundreds of recovered bodies are awaiting DNA analysis for identification.

Others, washed out to sea, may never be found.

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