UNHCR targets aid to Indonesian city worst hit by tsunami
BANDA ACEH, Indonesia, Jan. 10 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has begun focusing its natural disaster efforts in Indonesia on the west coast of Aceh province, including Meulaboh, the city that bore the most deadly force of the Dec. 26 tsunami.
UNHCR is working with other UN agencies to carry out joint relief work for earthquake and tsunami victims in this previously inaccessible area on the west coast of Sumatra Island.
"We want to have an integrated response immediately, not bits and pieces coming in here and there," said Alan Vernon, head of UNHCR's emergency team in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital of Aceh province on the northern tip of Sumatra.
As part of a collaborative plan, UNHCR will operate on Aceh's west coast, focusing on providing emergency and long-term shelter in addition to essential items such as blankets, cooking kits and logistics and transport. It will provide help for up to 175,000 people in the most severely hit area of the Indonesian province. Some 517,000 people are believed to be displaced or homeless in north Sumatra.
Two members of UNHCR's emergency team and a representative of the Office of the Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs on Sunday flew by helicopter from Banda Aceh, centre for relief operations in the heart of the disaster zone, to set up a common office in Meulaboh.
The office will receive aid supplies from various sources, including UNHCR material airlifted to Jakarta from the agency's main warehouses in Copenhagen and Dubai. Other agencies involved in the initiative include WFP, UNICEF, the UN Joint Logistics Centre and the UN security branch, UNSECOORD.
UNHCR's first emergency shipment, consisting of tents, sleeping mats, blankets, jerry cans and plastic sheeting, is expected in Meulaboh by Tuesday. A chartered aircraft is scheduled to ferry 16.5 tonnes of relief materials to Banda Aceh, from where they will be loaded onto helicopters for the flight to Meulaboh, 200 km to the south-west.
Meulaboh was close to the epicentre of the magnitude-9 earthquake, so its people were some of the first to experience the deadly tsunami that hit coastlines all across southern Asia and as far away as Somalia in the Horn of Africa.
In Meulaboh, waves as high as 20 metres levelled hundreds of miles of coastline, washed out bridges, cut all road links and destroyed at least half the city. UNHCR's Vernon said half of Meulaboh's pre-tsunami population of 60,000 has been uprooted.
UNHCR is using private transport to move urgently needed supplies to Banda Aceh after failing to get the military to move them. Four UNHCR trucks carrying tonnes of plastic sheeting on Monday joined a convoy of the International Organization for Migration from Jakarta to Banda Aceh. Another convoy using 10 trucks from the private UPS delivery service left Jakarta for Banda Aceh Monday afternoon carrying 1,900 tents.
"We are still working through the UN Joint Logistics Centre to obtain the use of military assets, so that we can transport urgently-needed supplies from Jakarta to Aceh," Robert Ashe, UNHCR's regional representative, said in Jakarta. "If we are unable to obtain the use of military airlift capacity, then we will have to rely mainly on private trucks to transport supplies, which take at least five days to get to the disaster zone."
The situation should improve with the scheduled arrival in Indonesia Tuesday of three Super Puma military helicopters which the Swiss government has put at the disposal of UNHCR for its aid operations. The Swiss are paying the operating costs for the three helicopters for three months.
Distribution of relief items is more advanced in Sri Lanka than Indonesia, after UNHCR started opening its warehouses within hours of the tsunami's striking the coastline of the island nation.
UNHCR has announced a six-month $75-million appeal to provide shelter, non-food aid and logistical support for hundreds of thousands of victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Somalia. The UNHCR operation is part of an overall UN appeal for $977 million.