UNHCR steps up aid to tsunami victims as U.N. urges donor governments to be generous
GENEVA, Jan. 11 (UNHCR) - As the U.N. urged donor governments to donate nearly $1 billion to tsunami disaster relief Tuesday, the U.N. refugee agency stepped up its delivery of aid supplies to hard-hit areas of Indonesia and Sri Lanka.
More than 80 states met in Geneva to discuss the U.N. call for $977 million for immediate relief over the next six months to survivors of the Dec. 26 tsunami, which killed over 150,000 in many countries across the Indian Ocean.
"It is very important that we get money early on," UN emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland said before the donor conference. "Hunger doesn't wait, disease doesn't wait. We need to be quicker."
As part of the overall U.N. "flash appeal," UNHCR asked for $75 million to provide shelter, non-food aid and logistical support for hundreds of thousands of victims, in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Somalia. The refugee agency, taking an exceptional role in natural disaster relief, rushed into action on the very day of the tsunami, opening its warehouses in Sri Lanka to distribute vital aid supplies to desperate people who had lost everything.
"It is crucial that UNHCR get the $75 million we have requested to alleviate the suffering of tsunami victims over the next six months, and that we can be sure the aid will actually get to them," said Kamel Morjane, Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees, who attended Tuesday's donor conference.
"We also call on donor governments not to forget the millions of refugees in other parts of the world who are depending on UNHCR for their daily needs," he added. "UNHCR looks after 17 million refugees and others of concern around the world, and yet we often have difficulty raising the money we need to help them."
"We should not forget that Darfur refugees in Eastern Chad, for example, are just as desperate for shelter and clean drinking water as the tsunami victims in Indonesia and Sri Lanka," Morjane said.
On Tuesday 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," UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis told journalists in Geneva. 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 World Food Programme," Pagonis said. Meulaboh was the fishing area that was worst hit by the huge tidal waves.
In addition, the three Swiss Super Puma helicopters UNHCR requested from the Swiss government last week arrived in Medan in northern Sumatra on Tuesday. Once they become operational in three to five days, "this will significantly boost our operational capacity and that of other agencies" Pagonis said. The helicopters will be used to deliver supplies, move UNHCR staff and perform medical evacuations.
"UNHCR will be working with other humanitarian agencies in Aceh to ensure the most effective and efficient use of this valuable logistical support," Pagonis said.
In Sri Lanka, 20,000 kitchen sets from New Delhi were scheduled to arrive Tuesday 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 for people whose homes were washed away by the tsunami," Pagonis said.
"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," Pagonis added.