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06 January 2005

United Nations Seeks $977 Million for Tsunami Victims

Asks donors to quickly convert pledges to cash for emergency

By Judy Aita
Washington File United Nations Correspondent

United Nations -- The United Nations launched an urgent appeal January 6 for $977 million dollars to provide emergency assistance to more than 5 million people in five countries hit by the Indian Ocean tsunami in late December 2004.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced the details of the appeal at an emergency meeting of world leaders who gathered in Jakarta, Indonesia, one of the countries hardest hit by the tsunami December 26, 2004.  The appeal is in addition to the $59 million needed by the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

"It seems at times like a nightmare from which we are still hoping to awaken," Annan told the large gathering.  "Except that for millions of people in twelve affected countries spanning two continents and for tens of thousands of visitors from 40 nations around the world, this nightmare is devastatingly real."

The United Nations has estimated that 150,000 were killed but said that number is expected to rise.  Another 500,000 were injured, 2 million need food aid, and up to 5 million have been left without housing, health care or other basic services.  It is the largest natural disaster to which the United Nations has had to respond in its 60 years.

By the time the Jakarta meeting began, the United Nations had pledges amounting to almost $3.5 billion, showing "the world coming together in a manner we've never ever seen before," according to Jan Egeland, U.N. emergency relief coordinator.

"At the moment we are not able to really record all the generous contributions that we are getting," Egeland said at a press conference at U.N. headquarters in New York before the start of the meeting.  "They are coming so often and they are so big you really have to reconfirm many times to be sure that you heard right, the number of zeros were right."

But in Jakarta, Annan stressed that translating those pledges into cash was "a race against time."  The aid must accelerate quickly to "stop the tsunami from being followed by a second wave of death" from polluted drinking water, lack of sanitation, food shortages and disease, he said.

The challenges are daunting but not insurmountable, Annan said.  With the help of helicopters, ships, and other logistical support led by the United States, more goods are reaching those in need every hour.  Nevertheless, he added, more people and more material are needed to get the aid to those most in need, who are often in remote areas.

"Although we were powerless to stop the tsunami, together, we do have the power to stop those next waves," the secretary-general said.

At the end of the summit, world leaders pledged to work together to help the victims and, as quickly as possible, set up a tsunami early warning system so that residents of coastal communities will have a chance to flee if a tsunami occurs again.

"This unprecedented devastation needs unprecedented global response in assisting national governments to cope with such disasters," their declaration said.  “We believe that through concerted efforts, spurred by the spirit of compassion and sacrifice and endurance, together we will prevail in overcoming this catastrophe," it continued.

The appeal provides a focused set of immediate programs to which donors can channel their pledges.  The programs have been agreed to by the affected governments as well as 40 U.N. and nongovernmental agencies who will carry them out.  The programs set the stage for longer-term efforts once the relief moves from saving lives to recovery and reconstruction.  U.N. officials said that another plan will be developed over the coming months to provide a focus for the funds donors earmark for recovery and reconstruction efforts.

The global response to the initial public health crisis, aid officials said, will be a critical indicator of the success of the overall relief and recovery efforts.

SPECIFIC NEEDS ESTIMATES

Covering the next six months, the appeal asks for $121.8 million for food, $122 million for heath care, $61 million for water and sanitation, $222 million for shelter and other urgent nonfood items, and $110 million for the early restoration of livelihoods.  Also included in the appeal are funds for restarting agriculture, coordination and support services, education and security.

The programs focus on keeping people alive and supporting their efforts to recover, U.N. officials said.  Reaching isolated communities is a serious challenge because of the destruction of transport infrastructure and communication systems that require complex logistics and operations systems.

The appeal earmarks $371.6 million -- in addition to another $102 million for food -- for Indonesia, where some 1 million people require immediate assistance and as many as 2 million are in need as a result of the wider impact of the disaster, the United Nations said.  The tsunami destroyed homes and buildings up to 5 kilometers inland in Sumatra and damaged roads, bridges, telecommunications, water and electricity systems, crops, irrigation, fisheries, and food and fuel outlets. Normal activities have completely stopped including schooling, business, and trade.  Most residents of areas such as Banda Aceh are living in makeshift shelters wherever space is available.

The United Nations is seeking $66.5 million to address the urgent needs and begin the recovery process in the Maldives. The magnitude and scale of the disaster relative to the size and population of the Maldives is unprecedented in living memory. The tsunami inundated all of the country's 200 inhabited islands.  The highest elevation in the country is 1.5 meters above sea level and the island is so small there was nowhere to run when the tsunami struck.

The Maldives' entire population was affected, with one-third severely affected. All of the country's islands are accessibly only by boat or small seaplane, making aid delivery difficult.  Nearly everything, from the most basic food supplies to reconstruction materials, must be delivered, and jetties and other transport links have been destroyed.  Inclement weather could bring the entire aid operation to a standstill, the appeal noted.

The appeal calls for $8.9 million to implement the most urgent rehabilitation, restore livelihoods, and alleviate suffering on the main islands of the Seychelles, where the cost of the damages have been estimated at $30 million by the country's national disaster committee.  The tsunami caused considerable damage to infrastructures such as bridges and roads, fishing ports, jetties, hotels, public utilities, houses, water and sanitation in costal areas.

The northeastern coastline of Somalia was the hardest hit area of that country.  But many parts of Somalia have been suffering from four years of consecutive drought, periodic floods, and political insecurity; thus the tsunami was a further assault on an already vulnerable population, the United Nations said.  The area's full needs are yet to be assessed, but a large number of fishing boats and equipment was lost at the peak of the fishing season.

The appeal is asking for $10.2 million to address the immediate life-saving needs of an estimated 54,000 Somalis who are highly dependent on fishing.

For additional information, go to “U.S. Response to Tsunami and Earthquake in Asia at: http://usinfo.state.gov/sa/south_asia/tsunamis.html.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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