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Tsunami response: Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Somali latest

Briefing notes

Tsunami response: Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Somali latest

11 January 2005

Indonesia: Early this morning, a UNHCR charter flight carrying 16.5 tonnes of emergency relief supplies and 3.5 tonnes of telecommunications equipment from Jakarta landed in Banda Aceh. We used a private charter to fly up the supplies - including plastic sheets, tents, blankets, jerry cans and kitchen sets - as we could not get access to military flights. The cost of the airlift was US$23,000. The supplies are part of the more than 400 tonnes of emergency supplies UNHCR airlifted to Jakarta from its central and regional stockpiles in Copenhagen and Dubai early last week. As soon as helicopter space is available the supplies will be ferried to Meulaboh on the remote west coast of Aceh where we have set up a joint base with other agencies, including WFP.

The three Swiss Super Puma helicopters UNHCR requested from the Swiss government last week to help us with delivering supplies, staff and medical evacuation, arrived in Medan in northern Sumatra today and will take about three to five days to be ready for operations. This will significantly boost our operational capacity and that of other agencies. UNHCR staff in Medan secured a hangar for the helicopters. On Monday, we also had to begin trucking supplies from Jakarta to Banda Aceh - 16 tonnes of plastic sheeting were carried by four IOM trucks in a convoy, and 1,900 tents were sent in a separate private truck convoy.

Meulaboh is about 200 km - approximately two hours by helicopter - from Banda Aceh. UNHCR, as part of the joint UN relief effort, is focusing on the provision of emergency and long-term shelter in addition to essential items such as blankets, cooking kits and logistics and transport. The full extent of the damage on the west coast still remains unclear and will remain so until assessment trips on land have been undertaken. But this is proving difficult because of damaged bridges and destroyed roads. Overall, the refugee agency will be providing help for up to 175,000 people affected by the tsunami and earthquake in Indonesia.

Sri Lanka: An airlift of 60 tonnes of UNHCR relief supplies - 10,000 plastic sheets and five portable warehouses - from our central warehouse in Copenhagen arrived in Colombo on Saturday night, replenishing depleted supplies and expanding storage capacity. More supplies of 20,000 kitchen sets from New Delhi are scheduled to arrive today and Wednesday, with a further 10,000 plastic sheets from China also expected this week. We're also planning to airlift 6,000 tents from UNHCR's regional supplies in the Middle East to boost shelter capacity. The plastic sheeting is crucial to providing temporary shelter in a country where more than 115,000 houses have been either damaged or destroyed. This figure is expected to rise as the damage assessment in some areas awaits completion. UNHCR opened its relief stockpiles in Colombo on the day of the tsunami and has been distributing relief items for 20,000 families. Those supplies are now almost exhausted and replenishment is ongoing. The five portable warehouses, which have a capacity of 1,000 cubic metres each, will be sent to Kilinochchi, Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Ampara and a southern location to increase UNHCR's storage capacity as a lead agency in logistics and aid distribution within UN agencies.

There have been concerns raised about the presence of the military in temporary accommodation centres for disaster-displaced people. However, on Sunday, January 9, the government agent (GA) of Jaffna Kachcheri met with the security commander of Jaffna district and international agencies (UNHCR, ICRC, GTZ) in Jaffna to discuss the tsunami situation. The army agreed not to establish a permanent presence in temporary accommodation centres but will continue normal patrols in the centres' areas. Police are being stationed at the centres instead.

The government agent assured LTTE [Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam] and its humanitarian wing, Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO) that the focus is on assistance for tsunami victims, and is not political. All agreed that aid from the government will not be blocked by the LTTE or related organisations like the TRO. Soon after the tsunami, LTTE had set up a task force and coordination centre in Nelliyaddi. This will be brought under government agent's centralised coordination system.

Everyone in the meeting agreed that the emergency phase is over in Jaffna, and livelihood and shelter assistance were listed as top priorities. As much as possible, external aid from other agencies/donors will be channelled through the UNHCR information centre in Jaffna to the relevant agencies. Suitable locations for resettlement are now being identified. This involves finding government land, landowners willing to assist, consulting FCS [Fisheries Co-operative Society] and community members.

The UN refugee agency has sent a team to the south to discuss the longer-term shelter and documentation needs of people displaced by the tsunami. We were concerned that as the school year was starting, displaced people were being relocated from temporary accommodation in schools without being consulted. UNHCR has tried to mediate with the local authorities. UNHCR is also working with the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission to help displaced people receive personal and property documentation lost in the disaster.

Last week in Colombo, UNHCR met with government authorities and other national organizations in an attempt to verify many of the media and anecdotal reports on sexual and gender based violence arising from the tsunami affected areas. As these incidents had not been reported to the authorities they were not in a position to take action. UNHCR intends to re-launch its national Sexual and Gender Based Violence, SGBV media campaign in three languages i.e. English, Sinhala, and Tamil.

Somalia: There has been a delay in getting UNHCR relief items to tsunami disaster victims in north-east Somalia, Puntland, due to technical problems with the ship supplies which were being loaded on to at the Kenyan port of Mombasa. According to the latest information from Mombasa, the ship will be loaded by Wednesday night and could leave for the Somali port of Bossasso on Thursday, estimated arrival on Saturday.

UNHCR is sending 20,000 blankets and 2,995 plastic sheets and WFP will also be assisting us with onward transportation and distribution to the affected population after the relief cargo arrives. Further deliveries of blankets and plastic sheets, as well as 10,000 jerry cans, 22,900 kitchen sets and 22,000 mattresses, are planned but dates are yet to be confirmed.

The north-eastern coastland in Somalia's Puntland region was badly affected by the tsunami. Delivery of aid is likely to prove highly challenging, in a country where very little infrastructure existed even before the disaster, and where security remains a problem.