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Tsunami Relief Effort Gathers Momentum


As Tsunami Relief Effort Moves Into Third Week, UN Operation Gathers Momentum

As the largest United Nations relief effort for a natural disaster moved into its third week in response to the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami, a new coordination centre opened in Indonesia today, Secretary-General Kofi Annan toured the Maldives and the world body stepped up efforts to protect vulnerable children from exploitation.

“This will be crucial for earmarking available resources,” Francois Desruisseaux, a senior UN logistics and civil military coordinator, said of the joint Disaster Management Centre (DMC) set up with the Indonesian Government in Jakarta, capital of the worst ravaged of the dozens nations struck by the tsunami on 26 December.

“The Centre will ensure that the Government and the UN are working with the same baseline data on the affected people - who they are and what their needs are," he added of the effort to rush aid to the survivors of the disaster in Indonesia, which is estimated to account for two thirds of the 150,000 deaths registered so far.

Throughout the whole Indian Ocean region, from Indonesia in the east to Somalia in the west, the tsunami injured more than a half million people and left up to 5 million lacking basic services, with hundreds of thousands at risk of deadly epidemics due to lack of clean drinking water, medicines and sanitation.

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) said there had so far been no reports of epidemic outbreaks of diarrhoeal diseases such a cholera and typhoid fever, a major fear in such disasters but it added that access to safe water and sanitation “remain of critical concern.”

In Sri Lanka, where 1 million people have been affected people, WHO has provided supplies to help reduce the risk of disease, including water purification tablets, testing kits, and materials to eradicate mosquitoes and reduce the number of flies, especially at relief camps with poor sanitation.

In Indonesia, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported some cases of diarrhea, respiratory and skin diseases and noted that many people are suffering from mental trauma. Hospitals are overwhelmed with the injured and sick, it said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Annan continued his tour of the devastated region after launching a nearly $1 billion UN flash appeal, the largest ever for a natural disaster, in Jakarta last week. Over the weekend he visited Sri Lanka and yesterday began a two-day visit to The Maldives.

“I think the first test will come on the 11th (tomorrow) in Geneva, where we are having a pledging conference,” Mr. Annan told a news conference yesterday in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo when asked if he was confident that pledges of international aid, now estimated at up to $4 billion, would be translated into disbursements.

“I am hopeful, that the billion dollars that we have asked for, we will receive on the 11th,” he added of the flash appeal that is intended to cover just the next six months. “And of course as I said, we are in this for the longer term and we would hope to be able to keep the donors also engaged for that period. I know there is concern that once the crisis dies down and the cameras go away, the world may forget. It is our responsibility to constantly remind them that the work, the job is not done.”

For its part the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) called for immediate measures to protect children in the tsunami zone from exploitation, abuse, and criminal trafficking.

“The good news is that most of the needed efforts are already underway,” UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said. “But we have to move fast. Those who would prey upon children in this chaotic environment are already at work.”

The agency outlined five key steps essential to keeping vulnerable children safe from exploitation in the immediate term: registering all displaced children; providing immediate safe care by placing children identified as unaccompanied or lost in the temporary care of adults accountable for their welfare; locating relatives; alerting police, border patrols, teachers, health workers and others to the threat of child-exploitation; and instituting special national measures such as Indonesia has done with a temporary moratorium on children under 16 from Aceh province, the most devastated, travelling outside the country without a parent.

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