Aid from Germany and the rest of the world has begun pouring into devastated Asian countries. Berlin Tuesday pledged €2 million in financial help on top of technical and engineering experts already on the ground.
At least 55,000 people perished
Germany has sent a second team of experts from its federal disaster relief organization, Technisches Hilfswerk (THW), to Sri Lanka, and aid workers are en route to Thailand as well at the start of an effort to clean up devastation tsunamis wreaked on the Indian Ocean nations.
The German interior ministry said 12 experts had been sent to Sri Lanka to help restore water supplies, following the arrival of three German THW staff workers in the capital city Colombo on Monday. They will travel with mobile water treatment and testing equipment.
German workers in Phuket
In addition, the Thai government requested THW help in its effort to locate bodies still buried under rubble. Some 15 aid workers are making their way to the island of Phuket to aid in the search.
The death toll from the tidal waves, which were set off by an undersea earthquake and rapidly demolished coastlines of seven nations, is up to 55,000 and counting. Many thousands more are unaccounted for. Relief agencies estimate that more than two million people were left homeless.
Fear of new disaster
Meanwhile, international aid organizations feared that decomposing bodies and contaminated water supplies could bring on a wave of deadly diseases, unleashing a second wave of tragedy on a region struggling to cope with the first. Compounding the problem is the huge number of people left homeless.
"The biggest health challenges we are facing are the spread of waterborne diseases," said Hakan Sandbladh, a health official with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
Massive relief operation
"The people should be buried and the animals should be destroyed and disposed of before they infect the drinking water," said Jan Egeland, the UN's disaster relief coordinator.
South Korean workers from Korea Red Cross carry 8,000 blankets for tsunami victims
Egeland told a press conference at its headquarters in New York that relief operations would be the biggest ever as the destruction was not confined to one country or region.
"The cost of the devastation will be in the billions of dollars," he said. "It would probably be many billions of dollars."
In an interview with DW-TV, Gerhard Berz, the director of geo risk research at the world's largest reinsurer, Munich Re, also said he expected economic damages to "clearly amount to double-digit billion figures."
Germany increases aid
Meanwhile, offers of aid are pouring in from around the world. The German government has pledged €2 million ($2.7 million) of emergency aid to the countries affected and promised long-term reconstruction assistance, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer announced on Tuesday, adding that more planes would leave for South Asia to provide medical treatment and technical assistance.
"Following a meeting of the government’s crisis team on Tuesday morning, we’ve planned to send a Medevac flying hospital aircraft to Phuket to provide urgent medical treatment to injured tourists," he said. "Two other charter planes are also going to Phuket with additional medical equipment and embassy personnel plus doctors and engineers on board. These planes are then scheduled to bring back home German tourists who cannot leave the crisis region with the help of private tour operators. Our team of technical and engineering experts already on the ground will be sent to Khao Lak in Thailand to assist rescue operations there."
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer on Tuesday
Fischer (photo) also urged Germans to donate more money to the victims.
"It stands to reason that we’ll show the greatest possible solidarity with the nations hit by the Tsunami," he said. "In this context, I’d like to appeal to Germans to donate generously to charity funds for the affected regions rather than spending millions of euros on pyrotechnical gadgets during the forthcoming New Year’s celebrations."
Fischer said it was still unclear how many Germans were among the victims of the disaster, but he estimated that it could be several hundred.
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Global relief effort
The European Union has pledged more than €30 million ($40.5 million) in assistance, and the United States, Japan, China, and Australia are among the many nations that have all stepped up to help.
According to Reuters news agency, other European countries that have pledged help so far include Belgium, which is sending a military airbus with 22 tons of aid from Medecins Sans Frontieres and UNICEF to Sri Lanka.
Britain has already sent an aircraft with plastic sheets and tents worth £250,000 ($481,500, €350,000) to Sri Lanka. It said it was contributing £370,000 pounds to the EU aid effort and a further $100,000 to the World Health Organisation for reliefefforts.
The Czech Republic has sent a plane to Sri Lanka with drinking water. Officials said overall aid worth $444,400 would be sent.
French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier is enroute to Sri Lanka and Thailand on a plane carrying aid and the French government has earmarked €100,000 for rescue efforts in Thailand and has sent 100 rescue workers and five tons of aid to Sri Lanka.
Greece has offered Sri Lanka medical assistance, including 17 doctors and staff. The Netherlands is contributing €2 million to the Red Cross-Red Crescent appeal, above and beyond its participation in the overall EU program.
The Spanish government is sending a plane with first aid and sanitary equipment to Sri Lanka. It has promised €1 million for aid and planes and is considering sending specialists to help with distribution.
Sweden has sent two communications specialists to help UN relief efforts in Sri Lanka, and said it was sending tents and communications equipment to the Maldives. The Swedish Red Cross said it would contribute $750,000 to the global IFRC appeal.
Red Cross workers on scene
Some 10,000 local Red Cross workers are on hand in the region, providing food and medical care to those affected by the disaster, the German Red Cross said Tuesday in Berlin. In some areas food and medicines were in desperately short supply, the Red Cross noted.
Based on previous experience with earthquake zones, the Red Cross said it expected to be engaged in the area for at least two years. It has sent tents and blankets to disaster areas.
Supply warehouses in India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia had recently been replenished following the monsoon season there, the organization said.
Search for survivors
Hans-Georg Hartmann, a spokesman from the THW disaster relief organization in Germany, said his organization got a call from the Thai government late Monday night, asking for help in locating victims on Phuket.
THW officials and a dog on their way to relief efforts after an earthquake in Algeria in May 2003
"The team will have three rescue dogs, echolocation devices, acoustic locating devices, and of course, the necessary rescue devices," Hartmann said.
All the aid workers have previous experience working in catastrophe areas.
"The rapid rescue response team has already been deployed to diverse earthquake zones; a year ago in Bam (Iran)," he said. "In addition to the rapid rescue response team, a new special division of the THW is being created: the rapid water response team. They will also take a team to Colombo, to help with securing drinking water there."Altogether some 30 THW workers are in the region, with more standing by. Hartmann said it is unclear how long the aid workers will stay in the region.