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UN Steps Up Aid To Tsunami Victims


UN Steps Up Aid To Victims Of Asia's Devastating Quake And Tsunami

As the United Nations system rushed more aid to the victims of the devastating tsunami that struck south Asia, the UN refugee agency today opened up its relief stockpiles in Sri Lanka to deliver immediate emergency assistance to the Indian Ocean island, where thousands were killed, injured or displaced by the catastrophe.

"The magnitude of this disaster is so enormous and shocking that we will do everything we can to join the international community in bringing help as rapidly as possible to the victims of these gigantic waves," UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Ruud Lubbers said. "Our supplies are usually for displaced people, but this is an emergency and the local population needs help right now."

The Assistant Emergency Relief Coordinator and Director of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Yvette Stevens told a news conference in Geneva that the world body would launch a flash appeal in the coming days to fund aid to the affected regions, where media reports put the latest death toll at over 20,000, with more than 10,000 in Sri Lanka alone.

She added that the situation was particularly challenging given that widespread disaster has occurred in several countries. The UN was "used to dealing with disasters in one country," she said. "But I think something like this spread across many countries and islands is unprecedented. We have not had this before."

OCHA official Jamie McGoldrick said a main concern for the next coming days was the emergence of water-borne diseases and acute respiratory infections due to the surging of sea water and the contamination of sewage, especially in isolated communities.

OCHA has deployed UN Disaster Assessment Coordination (UNDAC) teams to Sri Lanka and the Maldives to work closely with national governments and relief workers in coordinating support from all over the world and plans were underway to send additional UNDAC teams to Indonesia and Thailand.

At an emergency meeting today with the Government and other UN agencies in the country's capital, Colombo, it was decided that UNHCR would concentrate on delivering relief items in the east of the country, where it has offices and access in a region that has been torn by a war with Tamil separatists.

Overall, UNHCR has seven offices in Sri Lanka, where it has worked for nearly two decades helping displaced populations as well as returning refugees.

The agency will provide 18,000 pieces of plastic sheeting, 17,000 plastic mats, rope, and non-food relief packages for 2,000 families, including cooking sets, plastic jerry cans, mosquito nets and clothing.

Stichting Vluchteling, a Dutch non-governmental organization that works closely with UNHCR on refugee programmes, today told UNHCR it would cover at least $200,000 of the approximate $280,000 cost of the relief items through its special fund-raising efforts for the disaster victims.

The agency will also assist the UN country team in strengthening the Government's response to the disaster and actively support emergency coordination at the district level.

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