Biggest relief operation gets under way

Local communities and international aid operations are getting ready for what the UN has described as the largest aid operation in history.

    The Red Cross has issued an appeal for further assistance

    As this massive exercise got into gear, countless residents in the countries stricken by the massive tsunami 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 deaths.

     

    "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.

     

    In nearby India, where more than 8500 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 authorise immediate spending worth $114 million.

     

    The Indian government was also sending emergency supplies by air and sea to Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

     

    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, Indonesia, near the epicentre of the undersea earthquake that sparked the tsunami.


    Biggest operation ever
     

    Jan Egeland, the UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, said relief operations would be the biggest ever, as the destruction was not confined to one country or region.

     

    People in more than one country
    have been affected

    "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 is a massive operation," he said.

     

    Among individual countries, Japan said it would provide $40 million for emergency food, medicine and shelter, of which $30 million would be provided directly, and almost $10 million via non-governmental bodies.

     

    In Washington, the US government pledged nearly $15 million in immediate aid and promised more to come, including $4million to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

    The US Agency for International Development mustered 21 members of its disaster assistance response team for the region, and the US navy dispatched three P3 reconnaissance aircraft from Japan to help in rescue operations in Thailand, officials said.


    Government pledges

    Qatar is sending $10 million to the victims while the United Arab Emirates has directed the country's Red Crescent Society to send emergency aid to the disaster-hit areas.

    Kuwait's Red Crescent Society has launched a fundraising campaign after the government said it was sending $1 million to help the victims.

    The Chinese government announced it was providing 21.6 million yuan ($2.6 million) in aid, in the form of food, tents, blankets and cash for India, Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Maldives 

    Various governments have
    pledged millions of dollars in aid

    The European Union has already pledged up to 30 million euros ($40.5 million) 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), 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, plus aid teams.


    NGOs, business get involved
     

    In addition to government efforts, non-governmental organisations and private firms in many countries were launching urgent appeals for funds from the public.

     

    The US-based aid group Care said it was feeding 14,000 Sri Lankans. Ahuma Adodoadji, Care's emergency relief director, told CNN television the organisation was mounting a major operation to aid more victims.

     

    The private sector in Japan, itself one of the world's most

    quake-prone nations, has also pitched in to help the victims.

     

    Japan's most influential business umbrella group, Nippon Keidanren, headed by Toyota's chairman Hiroshi Okuda, and two other business groups, set up a fund for disaster victims which aims to raise 300 million yen ($2.9 million), while the Japanese Red Cross Society had already announced a contribution of 100 million yen.

    SOURCE: AFP


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