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Build logistics, cooperation before next tsunami

Build up logistics, cooperation with private sector before next tsunami strikes – UN

Briefing Member States on the key lessons learned from the United Nations-coordinated relief response to last month's devastating Indian Ocean tsunami, the world body's top relief official today stressed the need to build up logistics, communications and cooperation with the private sector before the next disaster strikes.

"Our efforts were stymied by infrastructure, logistical problems and multiplicities of various actors," UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland said of what he lauded as a "timely and relevant and effective" international response to the disaster which killed more than 200,000 people in 12 countries, injured over half a million others and left up to 5 million more in need of basic services and at risk of deadly epidemics.

"We now need to strengthen existing tools and explore additional mechanisms. It is critical to build up our logistical and communications capacity to be able to provide timely support to national governments dealing with large-scale disasters," he added.

Mr. Egeland was speaking on the same day that a two-day conference opened in Phuket, Thailand, to discuss setting up a tsunami early-warning system in the Indian Ocean, which experts said could have saved scores of thousands of lives had it existed before the tsunami struck on 26 December.

In a message to the meeting, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said such a system should be under the coordination of the UN. "Our challenge now is to ensure that all the elements of an effective early warning system are integrated and cohesive, especially since so many different actors will be involved," he added.

At present only the Pacific Rim has such a mechanism, based on earthquake and tidal sensors, speedy communications, alarm networks and disaster preparedness training in vulnerable regions. In the current case, such a system could have allowed hundreds of thousands to flee to higher ground before the massive waves struck.

Praising the unprecedented cooperation with the private sector, Mr. Egeland noted that in some countries private funding matched or exceeded official funding and came in immediately.

"Many offers of technical assistance were also made during the crisis and this is now being carefully assessed to build relevant stand-by partnerships before the next disaster strikes," he declared.

He, too, underscored the need for an early warning system and noted the action plan on disaster reduction drawn up earlier this month at an international conference in Kobe, Japan.

"Through a faithful implementation of this action plan, we can significantly reduce the number of deaths by natural disasters," he said. "We can improve the world's capacity to provide early warning. We can also apply what we know about risk reduction in the wake of the tsunami by rebuilding so as to reduce vulnerability."

Mark Malloch Brown, chairman of the UN Development Group, speaking from the same podium as Mr. Egeland, said that now that the relief effort had saved lives it was time to move on to the second phase of helping the survivors regain their livelihoods through rehabilitation and reconstruction and he appealed to donors to stand by their pledges once the media attention flagged.

"Convert your pledges into contributions, your very generous pledges, please, as quickly as you can. Focus on not just further resources for the very successful first humanitarian phase but also now for the recovery activities, particularly in underfunded countries," he told the Member States.

"And please, please as the cameras start to go away, sustain your interest and commitment to rebuilding even as this terrible disaster leaves the headlines."

Aware of the many urgent humanitarian crises crying out for funding elsewhere in the world, Mr. Egeland, as he has done ever since 26 December, appealed to the global community "to please also make your pledges to the tsunami-affected communities additional to the support that you are planning to give generously to other equally affected communities elsewhere."

In the latest action on the ground, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is preparing to fly in 250 shelter boxes – each for 10 people and containing blankets, a torch, a shovel and water purifying tablets as well as cooking and drinking containers – for 8,000 displaced people in a remote area of Sumatra, Indonesia.

In Sri Lanka, UNHCR has so far provided plastic sheeting, mats, mosquito nets, kitchen sets and clothing for more than 150,000 survivors.

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