Daunting logistical problems confront UN efforts to reach Asian tsunami victims

30 December 2004
UNHCR handing over plastic mats in Wattala, Sri Lanka

Beyond the enormous effort to raise donations in cash and kind, one of the major challenges confronting the massive United Nations operation to bring relief to the survivors of the devastating Asian tsunami is to ensure that the aid reaches those who need it most despite daunting logistical and access problems.

Beyond the enormous effort to raise donations in cash and kind, one of the major challenges confronting the massive United Nations operation to bring relief to the survivors of the devastating Asian tsunami is to ensure that the aid reaches those who need it most despite daunting logistical and access problems.

As reports flowed in of hungry survivors clamouring for food, clean water and other aid four days after the tsunami struck a dozen countries, UN officials noted that many of the most devastated areas, like Aceh in Indonesia, already suffered from poor infrastructure with access worsened by the disaster. But they vowed there would be rapid improvement.

"Quite a lot is being done," Mr. Annan told reporters today when questioned about bottlenecks keeping immediate assistance away from those most in need. He said various governments were now offering communications and transport and moving military capabilities to the region, using Bangkok as a hub to reach other areas.

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland conceded there were problems all over, given the vastness of the catastrophe stretching from Southeast Asia to the east coast of Africa.

"I agree it is beyond the reach of all our combined resources in these five massive parallel operations from Somalia to Indonesia," he said when asked about problems of transportation and coordination.

He said the main problems were in Aceh but that 50 trucks of relief supplies were arriving there today and eight full airplanes were due in tomorrow. He discussed with Washington today the possibility of drawing on United States assets to install an air-freight handling centre in Aceh, and tomorrow the UN will set up a camp for relief workers there.

He had received reports that 40,000 people are dead in just one area of Aceh where "infrastructure was the worst to start with, distances are the biggest and most of the existing infrastructure is totally, totally gone," he added.

In Geneva, Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Margareta Wahlström, en route for a visit to the area, told reporters 3,000 metric tons of food would be shipped in to Aceh in the next few days.

Ms. Wahlström, just appointed Special Coordinator for Humanitarian Assistance to Tsunami-affected communities, said the situation in Colombo airport in Sri Lanka was difficult due to the backlog of flights and additional baggage handlers and fuel assistants had been brought in.

Mr. Egeland has acknowledged that frustration among the survivors will grow in the days ahead.

"It will take maybe 48 to 72 hours more to be able to respond to the tens of thousands of people who would like to have assistance today - or yesterday, rather," he said yesterday.

 

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