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Indonesia Welcomes UN Presence In Aceh For Tsunami

Indonesia Welcomes More Permanent UN Presence In Aceh For Tsunami Relief

The Indonesian military has welcomed a more permanent United Nations presence to reinforce aid coordination in the city of Calang in Aceh province, the area most devastated by last month’s tsunami, and infrastructure for a UN office is on the way there while several agencies already have staff on the ground.

Returning from a visit to Calang as well as the towns of Meulaboh and Banda Aceh, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Indonesia, Bo Asplund reported that Government priorities currently included the provision of materials related to education, along with logistical assistance and a more diversified supply of food relief.

The region was the closest to the undersea earthquake that spawned the tsunami on 26 December and accounts for more than two-thirds of the death toll of over 200,000.

An assessment of 50 settlements of people who have lost their homes in the Banda Aceh area revealed no immediate health issues, although access to clean water, sanitation and food remains a problem.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) reported today that 417,000 displaced people are in camps in Aceh and neighbouring Sumatra province while 260,000 are staying with host families, according to latest government figures. While many of the camps are well organized and managed by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), others are ad hoc collections of makeshift tents or clusters of people living in mosques and schools.

With the arrival of sufficient food aid by ship to Indonesia, WFP has wound down its airlifts of emergency food aid from the humanitarian air hub at the Subang Air Base in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which played a central role in moving aid to Indonesia with 82 flights, primarily by giant C-130s of the Malaysian and Danish air forces. The agency will now use the base to move essential equipment for other UN agencies as well as vehicles for its own use.

In Sri Lanka, the second-most ravaged of the dozen Indian Ocean nations hit by the tsunami, WFP reported that based on a food assessment it carried out with the UN International Labour Organization (ILO), many families – especially those who earn a living in tourism and the retail trade – are expected to begin to be able to support themselves again by the end of February. Others will be able to support themselves if provided with public work, micro-credit and food-for-work schemes.

Meanwhile, the UN World Tourism Organization (WTO) is holding a two-day emergency meeting in Phuket, Thailand, to discuss how to lure visitors back to tsunami-hit areas. WTO Secretary-General Francesco Frangialli, on a four-country mission to Asia, noted that although Indonesia was severely affected by the disaster, its tourism industry has been virtually untouched except for the small island of Nias, a popular surfing destination. The main issues are perception and communication, he said.

Hotel cancellations in Indonesia were totally irrational when destinations like Bali, Java and Lombok were several thousand kilometres away from the quake’s epicentre off the western end of Sumatra, he said.

As for the Maldives, UN Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative Moez Doraid noted that the islands that play host to the archipelago’s tourism industry, which makes up 33 per cent of the gross domestic product, were spared serious damage and the majority are functioning as well as they have always done.

“We want to tell the world that the country is open for tourism business. This is the best time of year to come, and the outside world can help by visiting as tourists,” he said.

On another note, Yusuf Islam, the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens, joined a team from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) over the weekend to visit displaced children in Aceh’s Lamno region, where 26 of 40 villages were destroyed and More than half of the population perished.

Only minutes before Yusuf’s arrival, a small tremor was felt, one of the many aftershocks occurring daily in Aceh. “All the children stiffened and wanted to run out there and then,” said UNHCR’s adviser on women and children’s issues, Karuna Anbarasan, of the school-turned-centre for displaced persons. “But the local imam told them to stay calm, to sit and to pray. He said they survived for a reason and purpose and it calmed them down.”

The children treated Yusuf, whose NGO has just set up a base in Aceh to help orphans and teachers who lost their schools, to a performance of song and intricate Acehnese dance using only their upper bodies.

© Scoop Media

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