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27 January 2005

Tsunami Relief Effort Moving to Recovery, Rehabilitation Phase

International aid effort "enormously effective," U.N. coordinator says

By Judy Aita
Washington File United Nations Correspondent

United Nations -- One month after the Indian Ocean tsunami, the senior U.N. humanitarian aid official reported that no major affected group or community is without life-saving aid as efforts begin the shift to recovery and rehabilitation, which "will be even bigger than the life-saving emergency phase."

U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland said at a press conference January 26 that the international relief effort involving hundreds of international agencies and nongovernmental organizations has been "enormously effective," but now is not a time “for complacency."

"We did save a lot of lives, but we have not rebuilt their livelihoods, nor given them a standard of living which is any where near what they should have," the aid coordinator said.

"The new phase as of today is the recovery and rehabilitation phase," according to Egeland.  In some areas it has already started, even though in some parts of Aceh and Somalia it will take longer to start, he said.

On the emergency response to the December 26, 2004, tsunami that ravaged nations from Southeast Asia to Africa, Egeland said that "in spite of monumental obstacles, no roads, few air strips, no ports, and torrential rains, bad weather throughout, we believe we succeeded in abating this second wave of deaths and that we have saved a lot of lives."

Within the first weeks after the disaster, international health officials expressed the fear that post-tsunami living conditions – deprivation, poor sanitation and lack of water – could lead to disease outbreaks so extensive that they might exceed the initial fatalities.

"A nutritional survey in Sumatra showed, remarkably, there is no significant rise in the malnutrition rate," he said.  "There is no significant outbreak of disease -- measles, pneumonia, diarrhea, even in regions . . . that have outbreaks of epidemics regularly.  It is remarkable that this has been avoided so far."

Donor response has been "unprecedented," Egeland added.  Donors have pledged more than $775 million to the $977 million U.N. Indian Ocean Tsunami Flash Appeal issued immediately after the catastrophe. The United Nations expects the remainder of the amount sought will be pledged during the next six months. 

In addition, a separate $200 million not related to the flash appeal has been received by the United Nations and related U.N. agencies for tsunami relief efforts, and "another $250 million is in the mail," Egeland said.

About 1.2 million people are receiving food aid and that number is likely to rise to 2 million, the aid coordinator said.  More than 500,000 people are being provided clean water.

"Students are going increasingly back to school," Egeland said.  "Symbolically 60,000 start school today in Aceh and Sumatra.  One hundred thousand more will return in February."

In Sri Lanka, India and Thailand, even more progress has been made to normalize life, he said. The rehabilitation is starting "earlier than expected," Egeland said.

"This means we will have to focus on improved shelter -- 250,000 have been given temporary shelter in Indonesia alone.  They need permanent shelter.  Clean water, sanitation, and health care need to be sustained and regularized.  We need to start the rebuilding of livelihoods and the rebuilding of communities as such," the aid coordinator said.

Egeland said treating survivors’ psychological trauma and rebuilding their communities are the most important tasks ahead. The handover of operations from military units to civilians and that from emergency agencies to development organizations from also part of the rehabilitation work that must be undertaken, Egeland said.

For additional information see U.S. Response to Tsunami

(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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