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UN Mobilizes To Aid Asian Tsunami Survivors

UN Mobilizes To Aid Asian Tsunami Survivors And Mitigate Any Repeat Catastrophe

With deadly diseases now stalking the survivors of the massive South Asian tsunami that has reportedly already claimed an estimated 40,000 lives, United Nations agencies today turned to the urgent task of providing clean drinking water and health care for millions of people and the longer-term need for a mitigating early warning system.

"In the coming days, additional threats to human life such as diarrhoeal diseases and acute respiratory infections can be expected to arise from contaminated water sources," the World Health Organization (WHO) said of the disaster which struck nine nations around the Indian Ocean on Sunday.

"Besides the need for mass management of casualties in hospitals, WHO foresees the urgent need for reactivation and boosting the capacities of local systems for health care delivery," it added of the UN relief effort which emergency officials have already called unprecedented in scale because of the number of countries affected at one time.

UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) teams, including officials from WHO and other agencies, have already rushed to many of the stricken countries, while others are on standby for deployment where needed. WHO is mobilizing funds for local costs and emergency supplies, emergency health kits and other necessities identified during initial assessments.

In an effort to mitigate the effects of similar disasters in the future, UN officials are calling for the installation of an early warning system such as already exists in the Pacific region which is considered more vulnerable to undersea earthquakes like the one which struck on Sunday off of Indonesia's Sumatra island, triggering a string of devastation.

"Had a South Asian regional alert system been in place to warn of the impending tidal wave, many thousands of lives could have been saved," Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Representative on the human rights of internally displaced per

The disaster "illustrates the need for cooperation at the national, regional and international levels to prevent crises of internal displacement," he added, praising the broad international response and stressing the importance of international access to those displaced.

Sálvano Briceño, Director of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (IDSR), a UN initiative for increasing knowledge-sharing in areas of risk management, also stressed the need for an Indian Ocean early warning system like that existing in the Pacific basin. "A simple and timely message can go a long way and can mean the difference between life and death, not to mention economic survival or ruin," he said. The International Coordination Group for the Tsunami Warning System in the Pacific (ICG/ITSU), a subsidiary body of the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) formed in 1968 and currently with 26 member states, seeks to assure that tsunami watches, warning and advisory bulletins are disseminated throughout the Pacific.

Meanwhile other UN agencies continued to pour in more traditional disaster relief. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) released emergency funds is deploying its most experienced technical staff from the Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery (BCPR) as the world body prepared to launch a flash appeal.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) is rushing relief assistance to the countries hardest hit and working to meet the urgent needs of hundreds of thousands of people who now need shelter, water, medical supplies and other aid.

With millions of people affected in India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, the Maldives and other countries, UN agencies have been working with governments to assess pressing priorities and provide immediate assistance. Sri Lanka and Indonesia are likely to have the greatest need for humanitarian support, UNICEF said.

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) committed up to $1 million and additional staff for rapid health assessments, hygiene needs and health supplies, including needs of women and girls be factored into all short- and medium-term relief planning,

"While the magnitude of this disaster may be unprecedented, we already know from our experience in previous crises - such as last year's earthquake in Bam, Iran, and the hurricanes that struck the Caribbean earlier this year - that women and girls will be hit especially hard," UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Obaid said.

Among the affected are tens of thousands of pregnant and nursing women, who are especially susceptible to waterborne diseases and may require supplementary feeding, prenatal care and childbirth assistance.

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