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US-led tsunami "core group" must support UN

US-led tsunami "core group" must support UN says Oxfam

International agency Oxfam today welcomed the statement by US Secretary of State Colin Powell that the US-led "core group" initiative to respond to the Asia tsunami disaster would support the United Nations, rather than duplicate its coordination role.

But as Colin Powell meets with Kofi Annan to discuss how the "core group" of the US, Japan, Australia and India will work with the UN, Oxfam staff in Asia warned that further chaos and duplication would result unless the UN was allowed to lead and coordinate the global response.

Oxfam's East Asia Regional Director Ashvin Dayal said:
"There is a risk of chaos in the aid response in Indonesia. So far, the United Nations is ensuring the relief aid and workers are starting to get through to Aceh, where the worst suffering is. We now need the best assessments of need, and the proper allocation of responsibilities between the agencies to maximise the benefits of the aid that is given. Only the United Nations can do this, with the Government of
Indonesia. The US-led core group must come under the umbrella of the United Nations to be effective."

Oxfam Sri Lanka Country Programme Manager Phil Esmonde said:
"The Sri Lankan Government and the United Nations are starting to rise to the immense challenge and working well together. Information is now flowing more quickly and the co-ordination mechanisms are kicking in. The UN is giving strong support to the Sri Lankan government, and is pulling together
joint assessment teams with donor missions sent out to the country.

"The Sri Lankan President has now appointed a focal person to lead the response. This 'Commissioner General for Essential Services' has set up an emergency operations unit. The UN has placed a key advisor into this unit, someone who has over 15 years' experience in Sri Lanka. UN volunteers have
been put in key support positions to the government in each district. Oxfam believes it is vital that the help galvanized by the core countries should move through these channels or the result will be unhelpful confusion."

Oxfam New Zealand executive director Barry Coates said that the "core group" of the US, Australia, India and Japan announced by President Bush on 29 December can strengthen the UN by: Responding to the humanitarian needs, impartially assessed by the UN; Supporting the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in each affected country; Maximising their own resources and contributing them to the total aid effort. If individual members of the "core group" pick and choose between recipient countries, it is much more likely that urgent needs in some countries will be overlooked; Making military resources available to the civilian efforts.

To donate to Oxfam New Zealand’s EARTHQUAKE TSUNAMI EMERGENCY FUND call 800 400 666 or donate online www.oxfam.org.nz


Notes for editors:
Examples of good and bad international coordination from past relief
efforts: In the Kosovo refugee crisis in Albania 1999. Donor countries acted
unilaterally, setting up their own refugee camps without UN coordination.
The result was duplication, chaos and poor quality response. In the refugee crisis in East Timor in 1999, the United Nations took a strong coordinating role with the result that the aid effort was well

Situation update

Sri Lanka: The 31st was is a national day of mourning in Sri Lanka with houses flying white flags. More Oxfam aid has been despatched from Colombo and is arriving throughout the country. To Batticoloa: 4,000 relief packs which include sanitary napkins, matches, candles, washing soap, detergent soap and sheets; 6,000 mats; 6,000 buckets; 3 barrels of chlorine; food for 11,000 families and 35,000 bottles of water. To Kilinochchi: 2,000 bed sheet packs, 2,000 sleeping mats, 4,000 buckets, 2 barrels of chlorine. Leaving today (31st) for Trincomalee: 4,000 relief packs, 8,000 mats, 4,000 buckets and 2 barrels of chlorine. Local Oxfam staff – many of whom themselves lost their homes and possessions - are in each location and have already been distributing plastic sheeting, mats and cooked food and setting up water tanks. A team of experts in water and sanitation, food and nutrition and public health have arrived to support the local staff, and we are setting up a new base in south Sri Lanka to respond in Matara and Hambantota districts, one of the poorest parts of the country. In addition, a German cargo ship is being sent from Hong Kong with a container of goods for Oxfam donated by the shipping company. These include diesel generators, sleeping mats, plastic sheeting, sanitary napkins and women’s underwear (as many people have lost all but the clothes they stand up in).

Eighty per cent of the coastline has been hit. In some places where there was once a government office or a hospital, there are now no buildings left. Government officials have been killed, government offices destroyed, records and information lost, telecommunications badly hit. Immediate priorities have been rescue and burial. Heavy rain on the east coast is now hampering the aid effort. But information is now starting to flow and the co-ordination mechanisms are kicking in with the government and UN working together. Damage is so great that in one town the Oxfam assessment team saw an enterprising government official who had set up his base under a tree and was getting university students to compile data on the needs of the local population.

Indonesia: Because of the extreme level of destruction, co-ordination and logistics are still extremely difficult and across the whole region there are air traffic jams. Three Oxfam staff are on the ground in Banda Aceh starting to establish an operations base. We are being helped by a local non-government organisation, the CSO Coalition. The CSO Coalition has mobilised around 100 volunteers who are working around the clock to remove bodies, which are still piled up in the streets and wrecked buildings. They are also collecting data about people and their needs for when more relief supplies start to arrive. The assessment mission by local non-governmental organisations to the still largely inaccessible west coast, funded by Oxfam, has reached Meulaboh and is moving on to Tapak Tuan. However, no news has yet come out as satphones went down on the morning of 31 December.

Maldives: A two-person Oxfam team is due to go on Sunday. As the highest point is only a couple of metres high, the wave swept over the entire country; 30% of houses have been destroyed beyond repair and wells are filled with sea water.

India: A new Oxfam base is being set up in Chennai. Three assessment teams are currently deployed and staff have visited several camps set up in schools etc for displaced people. A relief pack distribution is under way to 6,500 families. Oxfam staff visited 15 villages in Cuddalore district; each village had lost over 50 people, more than 700 lives in total – most of them women and children. Many survivors are in deep shock.

Other news: Oxfam has funded a local NGO to do relief work in Thailand, is considering a possible response in the Andaman and Nicobar islands and is monitoring information from Burma and Somalia.

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