Tsunami: Coping with Disaster

2005-01-02
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An Acehnese man tries to locate his family and house near the ruins of a collapsed building in Banda Aceh, Indonesia. Photo: AFP/Bay ISMOYO

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell flew to Asia Sunday to support aid efforts for victims of one of world’s biggest natural disasters.

The death toll from the Dec. 26 Asian earthquake and tsunami disaster surged close to an estimated 150,000, even as heavy rains and floods disrupted aid deliveries along the northern coast of Indonesia.

Indonesia has emerged as the hardest-hit nation, with more than 80,000 dead, according to government and aid organizations.

Lack of water and sanitation

Jan Egeland, the United Nations humanitarian aid chief, said that at least 1.8 million people in tsunami-struck countries would need food aid. He warned that many difficulties faced emergency relief efforts in the north of Indonesia, because stricken areas are remote and roads and air strips are badly damaged.

A lack of water and sanitation posed greater challenges than food shortages at this point, Egeland said.

Diarrhea may take as many children’s lives as the tsunami …unless we really succeed

“Diarrhea may take as many children’s lives as the tsunami …unless we really succeed,” he said.

The United Nations said governments and global organizations have pledged about U.S.$2 billion in tsunami disaster relief, surpassing in a single week the total in donations promised to the U.N. in all of 2004, according to the Associated Press.

In India, Agence France-Presse reported, the government has launched its “biggest-ever peacetime relief operation,” with more than 4,000 troops deployed. But in southern India, AFP said, food and clothing had still failed to reach many people in the disaster areas.

Airlifting survivors

Reporting from southern India, RFA correspondent Pema Ngodup said that people from outside the stricken areas who were unaffected by the tsunami had poured in to obtain relief supplies, thus preventing it from reaching those most in need. “They obtain the relief and then sell it in other places,” a shopkeeper named Kumar told Pema Ngodup.

They obtain the relief and then sell it in other places

On Sunday in the town of Velankanni, where Christian pilgrims traditionally gather during the Christmas season, a fight erupted between victims of the tsunami and some of the outsiders who came into the town. Witnesses said the fight was over rice that the outsiders were trying to grab and later resell.

Volunteers who had traveled to the area to bring aid could only look on helplessly.

“I am sad,” one volunteer told Pema Ngodup. “I came with good intentions and then this fight broke out.

About 3,000 people are believed to have perished in this area in and around the town of Ngappatinam in the state of Tamil Nadu. After the government issued an unfounded warning of another tsunami several days ago, many local people ran to safety further inland, abandoning their shops and homes.

Japan pledges $500 million

In Indonesia, U.S. Navy helicopters from the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln began airlifting survivors and dropping food supplies in remote coastal areas. Large parts of Indonesia’s Aceh province remained isolated from the rest of Sumatra after the tsunami destroyed roads and bridges.

Australian and American cargo planes brought blankets and medicines to the province. France said it was sending a helicopter carrier and frigate to provide medical aid in Aceh, according to an AFP report.

Secretary Powell is traveling to Thailand, Indonesia, and other tsunami-stricken areas. He will assess the damage from the tsunami and attend an ASEAN donors summit conference in Jakarta on Thursday. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan is scheduled to attend.

Japan has so far made the largest aid pledge for tsunami victims, with U.S. $500 million committed. The United States has pledged U.S. $350 million.

RFA's Hotline