Tsunami aid plan to feed 2 million - East Valley Tribune: News

Tsunami aid plan to feed 2 million

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Posted: Sunday, January 9, 2005 6:13 am | Updated: 9:35 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia - The massive international relief effort to tsunami victims along the Indian Ocean seems to have found its legs.

Meanwhile, rescue workers pulled thousands more rotting corpses from the mud and debris of flattened towns along the Sumatran coast Saturday, two weeks after surging walls of water caused unprecedented destruction. The death toll in 11 countries is about 150,000.

Hungry people with haunted expressions were still emerging from isolated villages on Sumatra island.

Staggered by the scale of the disaster, aid officials announced plans to feed as many as 2 million survivors each day for the next six months, focusing particularly on young children, pregnant women and nursing mothers.

World Food Program executive director James Morris said at a Jakarta news conference that the operation likely would cost $180 million.

‘‘Many of the places where we work are remote, detached and their infrastructure has been dramatically compromised,’’ Morris said, a day after he visited Aceh with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. ‘‘We will be distributing food . . . by trucks, by barges, by ships, by helicopters, by big planes.’’

He said the agency has now dispatched enough food in Sri Lanka to help feed 750,000 people there for 15 days.

Jeff Taft-Dick, World Food Program country director in Sri Lanka, said that was a critical milestone ‘‘because there is now enough food around the country to feed everyone who needs it.’’

Morris said the agency was feeding 150,000 people in Indonesia and expected that to increase to 400,000 within a week and possibly reach as

high as a million eventually.

Major relief efforts often become ‘‘chaotic,’’ said Pat Johns, the emergency response coordinator for Catholic Relief Services, but ‘‘this time, it’s going well.’’

And the World Health Organization said that no major disease outbreaks have been reported in the crowded refugee camps housing survivors.

As two Indonesian navy amphibious vessels zoomed ashore in Calang, hundreds of refugees lined up amid the wreckage of boats to unload supplies. Eighty percent of Calang residents were killed in the giant waves. The Indonesian military set up two field hospitals, one with 50 beds, the other with 20.

‘‘The tragedy was terrible, but considering this, the survivors here now are in pretty good shape,’’ said Dr. Steve Wignall, an American who works for Family Health International and was making an assessment with several other aid workers.

The Indonesian government raised its estimate of the homeless to 655,132 on Saturday, but the actual number won’t be known until a full survey of the coast can be carried out.

The United Nations’ World Food Program is feeding about 130,000 refugees in Sumatra, with plans to start distributing a one-month supply of rice, beans and other food to another 140,000 over the weekend. If the government’s estimate of the homeless is accurate, it means the food is reaching less than half of the people displaced by the tsunami.

World governments led by Australia, Japan, Germany and the United States have pledged almost $4 billion in aid, and private donations to relief groups add to the total resources becoming available.

In other areas, victims were more vulnerable, though health officials said there were no signs yet of feared epidemics of disease.

President Bush, in his weekly radio address, said the United States was ‘‘rushing food, medicine, and other vital supplies to the region. We are focusing efforts on helping the women and children who need special attention, including protection from the evil of human trafficking.’’

Indonesia, which has a reputation as a base for child trafficking gangs, said Saturday it was monitoring its borders to prevent such smuggling.

As aid poured into a region long troubled by separatist violence, Indonesian soldiers resumed patrols in Aceh province to search for rebels. International aid groups worried that renewed conflict could hamper their work.

Problems persisted in coordinating the humanitarian efforts. Aid groups complained that dignitaries visiting to look at the devastation have choked the tiny main airport in Banda Aceh and hampered distribution of relief supplies. The airport was temporarily shut for the visits of Annan and Secretary of State Colin Powell, for example.

‘‘It slows things down,’’ said Maj. Murad Khan, a spokesman for Pakistan’s Tsunami Relief Task Force.

U.S. officials disputed the allegation, saying Powell’s plane took off immediately after dropping him off Wednesday so it would not be in the way. He toured the area by helicopter, and Tim Gerhardson, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, said aid shipments continued to flow during that time.

A delegation of U.S. congressmen traveled to Banda Aceh later Saturday. They came by helicopter from the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier so they would not disrupt other flights.

Annan toured a Sri Lankan town where hundreds of shoppers at an outdoor market were swept to their deaths. He reluctantly agreed to a government request to bypass stricken areas controlled by Tamil Tiger rebels.

The Tigers, who have fought a 20-year war for Tamil independence from the Sinhalese-dominated south, invited Annan to tour the northern province. But government officials said they could not guarantee Annan’s safety.

‘‘I’m concerned about everyone with need in the humanitarian situation,’’ Annan said. ‘‘But I’m also a guest of the government, and we’ll go where we agreed we’ll go.’’

With volunteers and rescue workers reaching more remote areas, still more dead were found. Indonesian authorities raised their death toll estimate by nearly 3,000 to more than 100,000 and braced for tens of thousands more homeless than at first expected.

Sri Lanka, by contrast, closed scores of refugee camps as people began drifting back to their damaged homes. With 38 more confirmed deaths, the nation’s death toll stood at 30,718.

The relief effort is building quickly in Calang, 55 miles southeast of Banda Aceh, where the 1,000 survivors have been joined by 6,000 refugees even though only foundations of homes remain.

About 13,000 U.S. servicemen are now in Indonesia and surrounding seas, along with 10 ships and more on the way, the U.S. Navy said Saturday. The U.S. military says it is incurring $5.6 million a day in operating costs.

At the bustling market in the Lambaro section, women haggled over costs of chilies, bananas, chickens and goats. Barbers set up shop and old men sipped coffee at outdoor cafes.

But business was bad for fish traders, since many buyers were queasy because of the bodies washed out to sea.

‘‘Business is down 50 percent,’’ said one seller, wiping the flies off five fat tunas. ‘‘People fear the fish are feeding on the human remains.’’

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