Asian tidal wave disaster: World’s biggest aid operation under way
BANDA ACEH: As what the United Nations described as the biggest international aid operation in history got into gear on Tuesday, countless local people in countries stricken by a massive tidal wave disaster were providing their own assistance with whatever came to hand.
Dozens of trucks and vans lined up in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo as locals sought to help fellow citizens in a country that suffered at least 12,000 dead.
“My family and I came with our spare clothes, food, bottled water... all to my fellow citizens battling it out against nature’s worst disaster,” said DK Wickremesinghe, a 47-year-old management consultant.
A company compound was being used as a virtual warehouse for relief supplies, with tonnes of canned food, bottled water, beverages, rice grains, pulses and biscuits piling up.
In nearby India, where more than 8,500 were known to have died, the local Red Cross issued an appeal for food, clothes, tarpaulins and kitchen utensils, and the federal cabinet met in emergency session to authorize immediate spending worth 114 million dollars.
The Indian government was also sending emergency supplies by air and sea to Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
At United Nations headquarters in New York, meanwhile, officials said that the biggest disaster relief operation ever staged would be needed to deal with the disaster, with seven countries suffering massive damage and many others also affected.
UN emergency experts were to arrive in Sri Lanka and the Maldives on Tuesday but the world body was struggling to reach its staff in Sumatra in Indonesia, near the epicenter of the undersea earthquake that sparked the tsunamis.
Jan Egeland, the UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, told reporters that relief operations would be the biggest ever, as the destruction was not confined to one country or region.
“There are thousands of dead people, and there are tens of thousands of dead animals. The people should be buried and the animals should be destroyed and disposed of before they infect the drinking water. It’s a massive operation,” he said.
Among individual countries, Japan said it would provide some 40 million dollars for emergency food, medicine and shelter, of which 30 million dollars provided directly and almost 10 million via non-governmental bodies.
In Washington, the US government pledged nearly 15 million dollars in immediate aid and promised more to come, including four million dollars to the the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) mustered 21 members of its disaster assistance response team for the region and the US Navy dispatched three P3 reconnaisance aircraft from Japan to help in rescue operations in Thailand, officials said.
The Chinese government announced that it was providing 21.6 million yuan (2.6 million dollars) in aid, in the form of food, tents, blankets and cash for India, Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
The European Union has already pledged up to 30 million euros (40.5 million dollars) in emergency aid, after initially releasing three million euros in emergency aid. Germany pledged one million euros and was working with humanitarian groups, as well as sending three experts to Sri Lanka to help restore water supplies. France sent a plane carrying 100 doctors and other aid experts, along with Foreign Minister Michel Barnier. Other European countries were also pledging aid from both governments and private donors. In Australia, the government pledged an initial 10 million Australian dollars (7.8 million US), with more to come. Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said most of the money would go to Indonesia and Thailand.
Singapore was sending 1.22 million dollars, plus aid teams. In addition to government efforts, non-governmental organizations and private firms in many countries were launching urgent appeals for funds from the public. afp