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Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

UNICEF aid arrives in Asia's hardest hit countries

© UNICEF/HQ05-0012/Noorani
UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy speaks with a girl who was injured during the tsunami at the General Hospital in the southern city of Matara.

NEW YORK, 2 January 2005 – Since the new year began, five planeloads of life-saving UNICEF supplies have arrived in Indonesia and Sri Lanka for victims of the tsunami disaster. More aid was delivered by trucks across the devastated Asian region.

"A lot is happening to help these people but there is so much more to do,” said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy after touring some of the worst hit coastal communities in Sri Lanka.

“One thing I can guarantee is that UNICEF will be here long after the cameras leave," she pledged.

As Bellamy spoke, UNICEF staff around the world were hard at work coordinating the delivery of supplies to children and families that need urgent assistance.

Dan Toole, UNICEF’s Director of Emergency Operations said the needs were enormous. More than one third of the survivors are children and young people under 18 years old.

“In the last 48 hours we have delivered five planeloads of supplies into Indonesia and Sri Lanka,” he said. “The best distribution so far is in India because there is less destruction.

“The generosity of the world has been extraordinary and we hope it continues but we have to understand that the crisis won’t be over in two weeks from now. To get on with their lives, these people will need our support for the next several months, perhaps more than a year.”

© UNICEF/HQ05-0001/Bagla
A child being given clean drinking water in Pondicherry, India.

Arriving in Colombo early on Sunday morning, Carol Bellamy immediately boarded a government helicopter for tsunami-hit regions in eastern Sri Lanka. She visited the districts of Batticaloa and Ampara in the east, and then flew south along the coast to Matara.

From the air, Bellamy was able to see beachfronts where whole communities had been destroyed, save for a mosque or other large structure. In some areas, the destruction is so complete that whole neighbourhoods had been transformed into piles of debris.

Bellamy’s visit took her to shelters supported by UNICEF, most of which are in local schools and temples. She came along with shipments of blankets, mats for sleeping, clean water in large portable tankers, and recreation supplies for children.

She also toured beachfront neighbourhoods that were completely ruined by the waves. Brick and concrete homes lay in rubble, with only a stray few walls still standing here and there. All else was flat as far as the eye could see.

About fifty meters away, on the oceanfront, waves crashed on a beach covered with wooden debris. Dozens of people combed the beach for the bodies of their children. They were hoping they would eventually be tossed up by the sea, that the young ones who died would at least have the dignity of a proper burial.

"I met lots of parents who had lost their children, and lots of children who had lost their parents," Carol said. "But by far the most heart-wrenching moment was watching those families walking the beach, waiting for the bodies of their children to wash ashore."

© UNICEF Indonesia/2005
Relief supplies arriving at Banda Aceh airport in Indonesia

At a shelter in Batticaloa, she spoke with children aged 6 to 11 who were drawing pictures with crayons using materials provided by UNICEF. Most of the images were of houses and gardens, with a choppy sea looming in the background. Many of the children had been separated from their parents, but were in the care of other relatives.

At a shelter in Ampara, children moped around the compound until they were encouraged by visitors to get on a merry-go-round which several adults then pushed for them. They howled with laughter and smiles, and urged the visitors to keep going.

A teacher from a nearby school explained that the children are trying to show happiness -- though he suspects they are merely covering their feelings of loss, confusion, and worry.

© UNICEF/HQ04-0888/Jufri
Children who have been displaced by the tsunami sleep on the floor of a mosque in the town of Lhokseumawe on the northern tip of Sumatra, Indonesia. The children have lost family members as well as their homes.

UNICEF is working in all the affected districts of Sri Lanka. With five sub-offices, UNICEF was able to respond from day one, even though the UNICEF office in Batticaloa was damaged and the homes of three of its staff washed away.

Touring Sri Lanka with Bellamy, UNICEF’s Media Chief Alfred Ironside said, “Everywhere we went we saw UNICEF water tanks, UNICEF lorries carrying shelter supplies and water purification tablets, and a roving van distributing bottled water.

“More importantly, UNICEF staff on the ground have played an important advisory role for local authorities trying to organize their response. UNICEF experts have advised on key measures -- such as the suggestion to immediately dig 300 latrines in Ampara -- and provided the cash resources and equipment needed to make it possible. Throughout the day the UNICEF staff are called by local officials, non-governmental organisations, and shelter managers to help solve problems,” he said.




2 January 2005: Dan Thomas reports on UNICEF's global efforts to assist tsunami survivors

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2 January 2005: UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy speaks to CNN's Wolf Blitzer from Sri Lanka

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