After tsunami, relief begins
Nations and businesses pledge aid to areas hit by Sunday disaster.
As people gathered on the beaches of southern India to scatter flower petals on the sea, and began to bury the dead, nations and aid organizations worldwide stepped forward with relief assistance for the eight Indian Ocean countries struck by tsunamis Sunday.Skip to next paragraph
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In Kuwait, where thousands of Sri Lankans work as maids and janitors, the government pledged $1 million in humanitarian aid. "Companies are coming forward on their own, it's unbelievable," says Ahmed Izzeth Izzedeen, Sri Lanka's ambassador to Kuwait. Other nations are offering clothing and food, as well as their national airlines to carry the donations. Ships and helicopters of the Pakistani Navy are helping evacuate survivors in the Maldives.
Relief workers say that given the scale of the devastation over many remote coastlines, the help is going to be needed. At press time, the death toll was estimated at more than 23,000.
"It was over in less than 20 minutes, but ever since then I have been helping recover bodies - at least 200 just on this beach alone and many are still floating in the lagoon," says De Lima, who works for CARE International, one of the world's largest humanitarian organizations, in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka.
While poor countries such as Sri Lanka and India have aid organizations with experience in dealing with floods in the region, many of those workers themselves are personally affected.
"My family and I were returning from church on Sunday [when the tsunami hit]," says Mr. Lima. "When I returned to my house and opened the door, four feet of water came pouring out along with furniture, clothes, telephones etc."
Although his home phone was washed away, De Lima has managed to restore the phone in his office and is back in business the morning after, along with 38 other CARE workers based in the area.
"There is no lack of aid workers in Sri Lanka, in places like Trincomalee, etc.," he says, "but this time around all the workers I know have been themselves affected by the disaster. Most have lost at least one aunt or uncle or other family member. It's nothing like what I have experienced in the past."
Oxfam official Gurinder Kaur in Delhi says that the initial efforts are aimed at preventing outbreaks of disease. "Although food and clothing are in severe demand, aid workers are concentrating first on digging out bodies buried in the sand to prepare them for identification and then burial. The rest comes later," he says.
Most aid groups like Oxfam and CARE International have a significant presence in Sri Lanka and have often dealt with floods and cyclones that hit coastal areas. Mr. Kaur worked on relief efforts after a cyclone in Bangladesh in 1991, when an estimated 140,000 people died. But he says that this disaster is different: "No one around India and Sri Lanka has ever witnessed or experienced a tsunami. While weather experts have had some experience in tidal waves and there was some warning, most people were still unable to get away. But this is a first for the Indian Ocean since the 1830s."
Biranchi Uppadhyaya, South Asian regional manager for Oxfam, based in New Delhi, says that the situation in India at the moment appears to be one of a "localized emergency that the Indian authorities and the Army are capable of dealing with, while the Sri Lanka situation is bad all along the coastline and made much worse by the fact that it's a major destination for beach goers getting away from northern winters."
Kaur agrees, noting that the tragedy was magnified in Sri Lanka because of all the built up areas along the beaches - the hotels and beach bungalows catering to vacationers.
ICRC, Care International, World Vision and other local NGOs have been assessing the extent of the tragedy for the last 24 hours, but are not expected to finish until later Tuesday. Disrupted phone lines and broken mobile phone towers have made communications difficult. "Some of these areas are remote and many have been totally submerged, so its difficult for the aid workers to know what or who they are looking for in many instances, says Kaur.