UN says 1.8 million tsunami suvivors need food aid

 

The number of victims of the Asian tsunami needing food assistance now stands at 1.8 million and could rise further, a senior United Nations official said today.

"We will need to provide food assistance to 1.8 million in the affected countries," said Mr Jan Egeland, the UN official in charge of emergency relief. He said that within three days relief could be provided to 700,000 people in need of food in Sri Lanka. It would take much longer to reach the 1 million people who need food in Indonesia.

Meanwhile heavy rains and fresh floods disrupted aid to tsunami-hit villages as the UNHCR started a 400-tonne airlift to help survivors.

UN Secretary-General Mr Kofi Annan said the relief operation was the biggest the United Nations had ever faced and the reconstruction process would probably take five to 10 years. "Because the devastation is enormous it will require billions of dollars," Mr Annan said today.

He is due to visit Indonesia on Thursday, where he will probably issue a planned world appeal for more relief at a Jakarta conference on tsunami aid with world leaders.

The arrival of the US aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, now anchored off Aceh, significantly boosted aid operations.

But as aid reaches survivors, the World Health Organisation said disease outbreaks were likely due to contaminated water supplies and the destruction of many hospitals. More than 100,000 people are living in temporary shelters and camps in Indonesia, and the United Nations said many were suffering diarrhoea, fevers, skin irritations, respiratory infections, headaches and stomach problems. There was a desperate need for at least 20,000 emergency latrines and family-size tents, it said.

In Sri Lanka tens of thousands were living in camps and there too survivors suffered diarrhoea and vomiting from contaminated water, the first signs of potentially deadly diseases. The United Nations children's agency UNICEF has delivered 15 emergency medical kits to Sri Lanka which will allow 15 battered hospitals to treat some 150,000 for three months.

"In the immediate term, there are concerns that the death toll will increase in the absence of adequate relief efforts," said the United Nations.