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TSUNAMI DISASTER: Relief Effort

Author: Esther Pan
January 7, 2005

What is the status of the tsunami relief effort?

Governments and private organizations around the world have pledged nearly $4 billion in disaster relief. The deadly tidal waves, set off by a December 26 undersea earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale, wreaked havoc on coastal communities from Southeast Asia to Africa. The worst-hit nations include Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, and Somalia. Some 150,000 people have been reported dead, with some 500,000 injured, and tens of thousands still missing. As many as 5 million people have been left homeless. (List of aid agencies and organizations)

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What is the source of the aid?

More than 40 countries have offered assistance and relief funds. The nations that have pledged the most aid include:

  • Australia: $810 million
  • Germany: $679 million
  • Japan: $500 million
  • United States: $350 million
  • United Kingdom: $95 million
  • Canada: $80 million
  • Sweden: $75 million
  • Denmark: $75 million
  • Spain: $68 million
  • China: $63 million
  • France: $55 million
  • Saudi Arabia: $31 million
  • Netherlands: $27 million
  • Switzerland: $23 million
  • India: $23 million
  • Saudi Arabia: $10 million
  • Belgium: $13 million

On January 6, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan met world leaders at an international conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, where additional pledges were made. Private donors have also contributed hundreds of millions.

Is the aid only in the form of donations?

No. Gordon Brown, Britain's finance minister, is backing a German proposal to impose an immediate moratorium on debt payments from countries afflicted by the tsunami. Brown said the plan, which would save the affected nations some $3 billion dollars in interest payments this year, could lead to permanent debt forgiveness. The proposal received strong support from G-8 countries, including the United States, France, Italy, and Japan. Canada has already frozen debt payments from tsunami-hit countries.

What other actions is the United States taking?

It has sent more than 20 Navy ships with a U.S. Marine expeditionary force of some 1,300 marines, including 200 engineers. The fleet includes six C-130 transport planes to carry tents, blankets, food, and water; nine air surveillance and rescue planes; a hospital ship; an amphibious assault ship; and the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. U.S. helicopters are flying supplies to survivors in remote villages along the south and west coasts of Indonesia's Aceh province, the devastated region closest to the quake's epicenter. Seven U.S. Navy ships that can each purify 90,000 gallons of fresh water per day were sent to sites in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia. President George W. Bush announced January 3 that former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton will lead a U.S. private sector appeal for additional aid. A delegation headed by Secretary of State Colin Powell and Florida Governor Jeb Bush (the president's brother) is touring the region, and American flags will fly at half-mast to commemorate the dead.

What are other nations doing?

Among the efforts:

  • Four Indonesian navy frigates brought supplies to Meulaboh on the western coast of Aceh province, where at least 10,000 people were killed.
  • Japan deployed three ships, 40 air force personnel and several teams of medical, rescue and forensics experts.
  • India sent five naval vessels and aircraft loaded with food and medicine to Sri Lanka and the Indian islands of Andaman and Nicobar, where many thousands are presumed dead.
  • Singapore sent medical teams to Indonesia.
  • Britain sent two Royal Navy ships.
  • Australia deployed over 600 military personnel, health workers and technicians, sent two planeloads of water purification equipment, and offered small aircraft and boats to handle logistical support in isolated areas.
  • Pakistan, Germany, and India dispatched members of their militaries to help relief efforts.
What are aid agencies doing?

The United Nations said 50 international medical aid groups have arrived in Aceh province to set up field hospitals. The International Committee of the Red Crossflew in a 100-bed, transportable field hospital for use in the Banda Aceh, the provincial capital. The U.N. World Food Program set up a tent city in Banda Aceh and plans to feed 500,000 people for the next two weeks. UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund, is mounting a relief effort aimed at children, who make up more than a third of the disaster's victims.Doctors Without Borders opened an Aceh clinic December 29 and said it would send additional medical teams to India, Malaysia, Bangladesh, and Burma. CARE, one of the world's largest private humanitarian organizations, raised nearly $7 million in under two days, CARE officials said.

Where are relief efforts headquartered?

Many relief organizations are focusing on getting assistance into Colombo, Sri Lanka's capital. Banda Aceh, Meuloboh, and the Thai military base of U Tapao are also serving as regional centers for the international relief effort.

Who is in charge of relief efforts?

The United Nations is in charge of the massive international relief effort, coordinating the donations and efforts of myriad organizations from around the world. It has taken over the work of a U.S.-led "core group" of nations, including India and Australia, that was set up after the disaster to make sure aid efforts were not duplicated. Jan Egeland, the United Nations Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, is heading the U.N. effort. The U.N.-affiliated World Health Organization (WHO) is also coordinating field workers, aid agencies, governments, and private health organizations from its new command center in Geneva.

How much aid is needed?

Economists have estimated the damage in the billions of dollars. Hundreds of coastal communities in the region, which relied on tourism or fishing for their livelihoods, were literally wiped out. In the longer term, experts estimate the mostly poor nations affected by the tsunami will need continued assistance.

What is needed most urgently?

Water, food, clothing, tents, and medicine. Water purification systems are needed to provide clean drinking water. Portable generators, plastic sheeting, rope, mosquito nets, oral rehydration salts, and cooking sets are also needed. Officials in Indonesia asked for fuel to burn bodies and contaminated clothing, as well as shrouds in which to bury Muslims. Thai officials asked for body bags and forensics experts to help collect and identify the dead.

What other supplies are needed?

Transportation to get the aid to needy people, especially on the remote coasts of Aceh and Sumatra provinces on the island of Sumatra. Egeland appealed January 2 for helicopters, air traffic control units, forklifts, boats, landing craft, cargo planes, and hundreds of trucks. Transport planes arriving in Colombo are bringing in bulldozers and building materials.

What are the greatest health risks?

Immediate risks include infected wounds from broken glass and nails, the threat of electrocution from downed wires, heat stroke, and dehydration. There is also a significant risk of communicable disease among the survivors. Water-borne diseases like cholera, typhoid fever, and hepatitis A are spread through contact with polluted water. Officials are also concerned about malaria, dengue fever, dysentery, and yellow fever, which are spread by mosquitoes breeding in raw sewage or the stagnant pools of water left after floods. Health workers in the region report many patients with relatively simple cuts that have become seriously infected. Some regions are rushing to bury thousands of bodies in mass graves to prevent diseases from spreading, although WHO officials said there is no scientific evidence that unburied corpses cause outbreaks of disease. They urged local authorities to allow family members some time to identify bodies before they are buried.

Has the response been effective?

While the disaster sparked an immediate outpouring of international aid, some observers say the relief effort failed to reach needy people quickly enough. Many survivors, especially those in remote regions, had not received medical care, food, or shelter several days after the disaster. The devastation caused by the tsunami, which destroyed access roads and already weak infrastructure, severely complicated aid delivery. In addition, the scope of the problem--hundreds of thousands of people awaiting aid in nearly a dozen countries--is a formidable logistical challenge. Lack of coordination is another worry: on December 29, the U.N.'s Egeland criticized countries and organizations for shipping unsolicited relief aid that strained facilities at small airports serving the region and prevented more urgently needed items, like water purification pumps, from getting through. But on January 5 Egeland praised the relief effort as "the most effective?ever undertaken," and said progress was being made by the hour. He thanked nations around the world for their generous gifts and commended governments and agencies for their unprecedented cooperation.

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