BANDA ACEH: An army of aid workers raced yesterday to supply food and water to millions of tsunami victims, and salvage crews unblocked the runway at an Indonesian airport serving as a key hub for relief shipments.
The airport, closed to fixed-wing craft overnight after the chartered Boeing 737 reportedly hit a water buffalo on landing and damaged its undercarriage, had been handling round-the-clock flights rushing in disaster relief. Soldiers from the United States, Australia, India, Malaysia, Singapore and Germany were unloading the precious cargo.
Apart from this setback and the inaccessibility to many remote areas here and Sri Lanka, international efforts to bring relief to millions of tsunami victims was moving in two of the worst-hit countries.
Many regional airports are now bursting with emergency supplies, but distributing aid through areas where roads and bridges have been washed away has been a logistical nightmare.
A top United Nations official warned that the current toll of about 150,000 known dead would rise as more bodies were found and survivors fell sick.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell, on his way to attend a global aid summit in Jakarta tomorrow vowed that Washington would help the millions in southern Asia devastated by the Dec 26 tsunami to rebuild their lives. But an effort on the scale of the Marshall Plan was probably not needed.
He sought to deflect early criticism of Washington for being slow and stingy in giving disaster relief, telling reporters on the ravaged Thai tourist island of Phuket: “President Bush is determined to do everything we can to assist Thailand.”
The global outpouring of aid, now at $2bil (RM7.6bil), was “truly overwhelming”, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland said. But one of history’s biggest aid efforts faced huge obstacles, nine days after a magnitude-9.0 quake sent giant waves swamping the Indian Ocean rim.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said fears were mounting that diseases such as cholera and malaria would break out among the 5 million who had been displaced.
The UN agency said cases of pneumonia, diarrhoea, malaria and skin infections had already emerged in Aceh along with cases of gangrene because survivors had been exposed to polluted water and not treated carefully enough.
More than 94,000 are confirmed killed in northern Indonesia, and nearly 400,000 people are refugees. The death toll was sure to rise as rescuers reached areas inaccessible so far due to collapsed bridges, washed-out roads and unimaginable devastation.
In the Aceh coastal town of Meulaboh, cut off from the world for a week after the tsunami struck, a Singapore military medical unit set up a tented treatment centre on Monday with 33 staff.
In Sri Lanka, the second worst-hit with 30,000 confirmed dead, heavy rain again lashed eastern regions on Tuesday, flooding camps housing hundreds of thousands of homeless.
The UN children’s fund (Unicef) estimated that about 50,000 children had died and tens of thousands were orphaned. – Reuters
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