UNHCR's shelter relief boosted by Swiss helicopters
MEULABOH, Indonesia, Jan. 18 (UNHCR) - The refugee agency's shelter relief efforts in the Indonesian province of Aceh are now moving into top gear as the Super Puma helicopters generously provided by the Swiss government, swing into action delivering urgently needed tents and non-food supplies to the tsunami-battered west coast.
The Swiss helicopters started ferrying UNHCR's relief supplies from Medan and Banda Aceh on Monday, but Tuesday was their first full day of operations.
"This is a major boost to our operations on the west coast, and our shelter relief efforts are really taking off now. We want to get people back into their own homes very quickly," said UNHCR's chief spokesman Ron Redmond.
"We are aiming at starting recovery and reconstruction almost simultaneously with giving emergency relief, in an effort to reduce as much as possible the time displaced people have to live in temporary camps," Redmond told journalists in Geneva as he outlined UNHCR's shelter policy.
The refugee agency will help people rebuild their homes that were damaged or destroyed by the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunamis, or help them build a home in a new location if they don't want to return to their previous property. Many displaced people have expressed a preference for living with host families and UNHCR will take this into account in giving shelter assistance.
In both the provincial capital of Banda Aceh and Meulaboh on the badly hit west coast, UNHCR has been putting up its spacious, lightweight tents to provide emergency shelter to people who have been living in haphazard, squalid conditions.
"We are in the process of setting up an emergency shelter camp for 1,000 displaced people in Meulaboh, some who had been living in horrible conditions with no sanitation or water and others who have been squatting in public buildings and schools," said UNHCR's Fernando del Mundo by satellite phone from Meulaboh. "This is only a temporary measure to give them a basic quality of life and some privacy. The shelter will be run by civilian authorities," he added.
UNHCR has airlifted 2,000 lightweight, 10-person tents to Indonesia from its regional warehouse in Dubai. The tents are now being distributed in areas where the need is greatest. This morning a ship arrived in the devastated town of Calang from Banda Aceh carrying UNHCR relief supplies including 250 tents, 2,000 blankets, 20 plastic rolls, 400 kitchen sets and 400 jerry cans. The local population was devastated by the tsunami, and most of the displaced people in the town have come from surrounding areas to get assistance, UN officials estimate.
UNHCR was asked by the Indonesian public works ministry for input on the ministry's plans to establish 24 temporary accommodation centres around Aceh for 30,000 people.
"The ministry fully accepted our proposals concerning changes in the design of the centres, conforming to UNHCR's standards for refugees and displaced people," Redmond said.
"But we want to emphasise that UNHCR will not be administering these centres, and our shelter efforts are directed entirely at getting people back into their own homes," Redmond stressed.
Meanwhile, a four-flight airlift of 2,000 tents from stockpiles in Jordan to Sri Lanka started today. A further 5,500 tents are scheduled to be shipped by sea to Colombo shortly.
And for Somalia, a desperately poor country in the Horn of Africa also struck by the tsunami, the refugee agency has dispatched a ship carrying UNHCR blankets and plastic sheeting. The ship should reach the port of Bossasso in north-east Somalia ("Puntland") this Thursday. UNHCR's contribution to Somali tsunami survivors will total 32,500 blankets, 10,000 plastic sheets, 15,000 kitchen sets, 10,000 jerry cans and 30,000 sleeping mats.