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Old 12-31-2004, 10:19 AM   #1

Join Date: March 21, 2001
Location: Europe
Age: 34
Posts: 6,136
Money has been pouring in for the relief effort in the areas around the Indian Ocean that were hit by last Sunday's tsunamis, not only from governments but also from private individuals. It's being called the largest relief operation in history, trying to reach millions of people across a huge area. But is the aid reaching people in time and will it be enough for the long term?

The World Bank said Friday it was allocating 100 million dollars to Sri Lanka out of an immediate budget of 250 million dollars for nations devastated by the tsunamis. In Sri Lanka, around 30,000 people have been confirmed dead, while nearly 5,000 remain missing and have probably lost their lives.

Tourists turned aid worker
Marijke van der Meer, Radio Netherlands daily press review presenter, is in Porttuvil on the east coast of Sri Lanka and tells us how the aid is being organised:

"One of the most urgent problems here is that it is an outlying region and almost no aid is coming here. There is only one doctor at the hospital here, being helped by two tourists: an American doctor and a Dutch nurse. They've been treating patients all morning [...] About 40 kilometres from here there has been an outbreak of contagious disease already."

"The strange thing is that there is plenty of food because there are lot of private initiatives. There is also a private initiative to collect medicine, but if it weren't for the American doctor and the Dutch nurse people wouldn't even have gotten the proper medicine that they needed because people are just collecting things, including medication, that would have been useful the first day after the tsunami, but not at this point anymore."

"Survivors are being collected and put in refugee camps [...] I hear from the doctors here that people are being very despondent; they are finding it very difficult to even eat and sleep, and they are very afraid. Many people believe that it is going to happen again, they don't trust nature anymore."

Future aid

But while images of devastated villages and grieving survivors have prompted a generous response in the short term, Professor of Disaster Studies Georg Frerks of Wageningen University in the Netherlands is worried about the future:

"What we have seen in situations of war and earlier large natural disasters is that the aid dwindles after a certain moment. The media attention has stirred somewhere else and political priorities are shifting and the attention is not really there and it becomes questionable if the aid is really flowing. Experience has learned that very often even the money that was promised has not been given."

Mr Frerks says that the situation in Asia is known as a solidarity disaster: "we feel sympathy with all those people, but to keep the attention for a long term on a certain problem and necessary long term measures and also to do it in a good way, with good planning, we have very often seen in the past that it is very difficult to achieve."

Phases of aid

Mr Frerks explains that there are four phases in the provision of aid and that it is the last two that are usually forgotten by the media and politicians. The first phase is 'immediate rescue aid', which is given by the local population because it needs to be done within the first 24 hours.

The relief operation in Asia is now in the second phase which is 'immediate relieve for rescue needs'; getting medicine, water en sanitation facilities to the survivors. All the people in rescue camps at the moment need to be settled into some kind of refugee camp. "That will be an immense operation," says Mr Frerks.

In the final stages of aid, the focus should be on rebuilding and resettling the areas that have been affected. Eventually the livelihoods of people need to be restored. In the case of the areas affected by the tsunamis, this particularly concerns the fishing and tourist industries. And in the past, Western governments have been very bad in giving aid during these final phases, even though it is in their interest for Asia to remain strong. But according to Mr Frerks, it is difficult for both the media - which play a crucial role in this respect - and politicians to keep focused on a particular area for a long time:

"I am not criticizing governments and NGO's in advance, but I simply argue that it is very much required to pay attention, not only to the short term and immediate needs, but also to think ahead."

Radio Nederland Wereldomroep (, all rights reserved
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