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Press Briefing



The devastation along the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, was "truly staggering", Kevin M. Kennedy, Director of the Coordination and Response Division of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told correspondents this afternoon as he provided an update on tsunami-related activities.

He said that since last week's briefing, the picture of the extent of damage and problems had greatly improved, mainly thanks to the combined efforts of the Indonesian Government, non-governmental organization, United Nations and United States air teams which had provided a very comprehensive assessment of the west coast of Sumatra. Giving several local examples in the Aceh region, the most affected by the disaster, he said that, in some areas, fatality rates topped 75 per cent of the population, with 100 per cent of all homes and dwellings destroyed. People in some regions were entirely dependent on outside assistance. In the AcehProvince, there were some 700,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in up to 100 sites.

Assistance continued to be provided, in cooperation with the Indonesian Government, the Red Cross and Red Crescent, and NGOs, he said. The vast majority of the people along the coast in Sumatra in need of assistance had received assistance. He hoped that within a few days everybody would be reached with initial assistance. Stocktaking had begun today within the United Nations on what progress had been achieved and where the organization had to be by the end of February. That would include reconfiguring and improving the logistics systems in the region, including air, water and ground transport. Because the whole coastline had been wiped away, a lot needed to be done in improving harbours and landing sites, in cooperation with the Government of Indonesia and foreign militaries.

He said that in Sri Lanka, the Secretary-General's Special Coordinator, Margareta Wahlstrom, and the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), James Morris, had had full access to areas controlled by the Tamils. They believed that the aid effort was going smoothly, and they had not detected any type of problems in terms of distribution or meeting the needs of the people there. The Maldives, consisting of some 200 islands, had encountered difficulties with water and sanitation, as water systems had been knocked out. United States maritime pre-positioning ships, with a capacity to pump up to 50,000 gallons of water a day, were addressing that problem. In the north-east region of Somalia, some 22,000 people were receiving assistance.

As far as resources were concerned, he said that of the $977 million requested during the flash appeal, $739 million had been pledged, of which $199 million was in the bank. Regarding the assistance Price Waterhouse Coopers had offered to the United Nations, he said details were still being worked out for arrangements designed to enhance financial tracking, transparency and accountability. He hoped there would be a joint press conference on 31 January.

Answering a correspondent's question, Mr. Kennedy said there were now 165,493 casualties, with the bulk of those, some 118,000, in Indonesia. There were still many of hundreds of thousands missing. There was a possibility in that regard of double counting, he said, noting that many government officials had lost their lives in the region, so that the local tracking capacity had been diminished. At the end of the day, there could be 10,000 to 20,000 more deaths in Indonesia.

Addressing a question about the situation of aid to Aceh, he said there was still a heavy load of assistance being delivered at the airport. The Indonesian Government had accepted assistance from Singapore, Australia and Denmark in terms of airport management and air control. Unconfirmed reports about a possibility of violence in Aceh had proven to be unfounded. A variety of internal measures had been taken to ensure the security of staff.

He could not give an exact amount of money received from civil society, he said in reply to another question. Millions of individuals had given to many organizations and entities not belonging to the United Nations. In the context of the Price Waterhouse Coopers/United Nations international efforts to increase transparency and accountability, a number would be determined.

To another question, he replied that the threat of the smuggling of children was of great concern to the United Nations and the governments affected. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and governments had set up a number of centres throughout the region for children. The Red Cross was working to trace them and their relatives in order to reunite them. The region had a history of child abuse and exploitation, but no reports of such activities had been received yet.

As to how long rebuilding of the affected areas would take, he said that would vary from country to country. Plans were still being worked out at the national level. He expected that there would be an international conference in the future focused on rehabilitation and development efforts in which the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) would play a key role.

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