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Coordinated Relief Effort Vital Says Oxfam

Coordinated Relief Effort Vital Says Oxfam

Relief operations by staff of international agency Oxfam are underway in four of the countries worst hit by the massive tsunami wave. Oxfam has hired a ferry in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka to get supplies to communities cut off by the tsunami. With 27 tonnes of water and sanitation equipment being airlifted to Sri Lanka and Indonesia from the UK today, the agency will be able to provide relief to around 175,000 people.

The agency says that the disaster-hit region will require massive and sustained assistance to prevent continued suffering and that coordination by the United Nations is of critical importance. Oxfam New Zealand Executive Director Barry Coates said: "Early signs are that donor countries are seeking to be generous and flexible in their pledges, but this must be sustained as this crisis will not be a two-week wonder.”

Oxfam stresses the importance of ensuring that pledges being made to the catastrophe come from an expanded aid budget, rather than diverting aid away from on-going crises elsewhere in the world. Coates: “Past experience shows that one humanitarian crisis each year tends to swallow up the majority of the aid money available, while others are forgotten. For example in 2002, Afghanistan received half of all humanitarian aid while 25 other crises scrambled for the scraps. Oxfam is concerned that humanitarian aid could be sucked from other crises such as Sudan and Congo where the needs are just as great. Pledges to the tsunami victims must be new money and not taken from needy people suffering from other crises."

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The 12 members of the Oxfam federation worldwide have already raised around $10 million in the first four days of the appeal and donations continue to pour in. Oxfam’s Barry Coates says that the generosity of New Zealand donors has been overwhelming, with an unprecedented $100,000 raised in New Zealand so far. “We have never seen such a phenomenal response to an appeal” said Coates. “Kiwis giving to our appeal can be sure that their donations will go to our operations in the worst-hit areas.”

To donate to Oxfam New Zealand’s EARTHQUAKE TSUNAMI EMERGENCY FUND call 800 400 666


Sri Lanka: The government has specified that drinking water and medical supplies are major priorities. An Oxfam aid flight was leaving today from the UK's East Midlands airport carrying 27 tonnes of emergency water equipment worth $270,000 which will provide clean water to some 175,000 people. Part will go to Sri Lanka and part to Indonesia.

Reports are coming in from Oxfam staff on the ground in several places and rapid field assessments are taking place in six areas. In Trincomalee Oxfam has hired a ferry to help distribute supplies to communities cut off from help and though most of the dead have been recovered, there are concerns about dead and decomposing animal carcasses. Most of its equipment was lost and supplies which had been stockpiled to help the victims of floods which hit the area earlier this year were destroyed. Oxfam staff helped ferry injured people to hospital and are now getting water tanks to an isolated community which is cut off south of the town.

In Vavuniya and Batticoloa Oxfam staff are providing temporary latrines, roofing sheets, plastic sheeting for shelter, mats, bed sheets and sanitary napkins which Oxfam already had in storage. In Killinochchi staff provided cooked food to people who were waiting for the release of the bodies of their relatives. In Batticoloa too, staff were involved in rescue and medical assistance, taking a number of people to hospital.

Oxfam is preparing 25,000 packs of food locally, containing rice, flour, dhal, fish, sugar and cereal, plus 10,000 packs with soap, sanitary towels, candles and matches. Water points are being set up in seven places.

As of 29 December, the government of Sri Lanka was saying that 25,000 people have been killed. Unofficial estimates are that 1.2 million people have been displaced. In places the wave went 2 km inland. People had already been hit by heavy floods over the previous 10 days and half the rice paddy crop may have been lost.

India: We have decided to focus efforts in Tamil Nadu which is the worst-hit state. In places the wave travelled 1.5 km inland and destroyed everything within 500 metres of the sea. We think that some 800 villages have been badly hit along a 700-kilometre long coastline. It is reported that 147 villages have been wiped out in Nagaputtinam district. In Cuddalore district alone more than 75,000 houses have been washed away. Oxfam staff visited 15 villages in Cuddalore and in each village more than 50 people had died, over 700 in total. Wells have been contaminated, possibly permanently, with seawater. Two Oxfam assessment teams are active in Tamil Nadu. They say the urgent needs are for clean water, sanitation, utensils and clearing of debris. People are receiving cooked food from local charities. Most of the dead are women and children. Many survivors are in deep shock.

In Andhra Pradesh many water sources have also become salinated but the State government is working on cleaning them. Oxfam has provided a list of villages where this need exists.

Concern is growing over the possible destruction in the Andaman and Nicobar islands, which have been also hit by earthquake after-shocks. A two-person Oxfam team flew in today from East India. Oxfam also plans to send a team to the Maldives.

Indonesia: Oxfam has assembled a team in Medan which will be the operational and co-ordinating base. We aim to distribute non-food items to 10,000 families plus hygiene kits, water tanks and latrine plates. It seems clear from aerial assessments that some of the towns in Western Aceh are up to 80% destroyed and there are acute problems with clean water. We are funding an assessment mission by a group of local non-governmental organisations which started on 28 December, using staff trained in disaster assessment by Oxfam GB. Oxfam will also work with local organisations but they are at full stretch and facing problems with fuel and transport.

Water and Sanitation Dead bodies do not pose a major health risk unless they are diseased (with cholera, for example) or are decomposing near ground water sources. According to Marion O' Reilly, senior Public health adviser at Oxfam GB, the main threat to displaced people's health is not having access to clean water and sanitation. She explains: "People displaced by the South Asian earthquake floods may be forced to drink contaminated water if they do not have access to clean water sources. This can lead to diarrhoea and cholera. Where water and sanitation infrastructure are damaged, water sources can easily become contaminated by burst sewage pipes or flooded latrines, so providing access to clean water is one of Oxfam's key priorities. Water tanks, pumps and taps to set up emergency drinking water systems for homeless families are among the first emergency supplies that Oxfam has sent out.

Food Everyone needs food but people vary on how long they can go without it depending on how vulnerable they are. Young children and people with illnesses are particularly vulnerable. Marion O' Reilly explains that although providing food in the short term is vital, Oxfam will also be involved in helping with this in the long term: " Many people's livelihoods have been destroyed and so they will continue to have major food needs in the future. We will be help with food and cooking utensils in the short term and with assistance to rebuild their livelihoods in the longer term."

Shelter Stagnant water left by the floods can also lead to health risks as it provides the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes that cause Malaria (caused by mosquitoes that bite during the night) and Dengue Fever (caused by mosquitoes that bite during the day). Displaced people are particularly vulnerable as they usually do not have access to shelter and mosquito nets. Oxfam has provided high quality plastic sheeting for temporary shelter and mosquito nets as part of the emergency aid supplies which are being sent to the affected areas.

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