Tsunamis Claim Nearly 140,000 Lives So Far | Current Affairs | DW | 03.01.2005
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Current Affairs

Tsunamis Claim Nearly 140,000 Lives So Far

The confirmed death toll from the tsunami that hit Asian coastlines is still rising more than a week after the disaster even as a massive multinational relief operation gathers pace.

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An estimated 1.8 million people need food, water and shelter

The worst-hit country, Indonesia, now says more than 94,000 people died there alone, as total deaths in the 13 affected nations near 140,000. In Sri Lanka the tidal waves have claimed 30,000 lives. India's death toll is now approaching 15,000.

Eight days after the tidal waves triggered by a massive undersea quake, hopes are fading that survivors might still be found. Forty nations have lost citizens, in addition to the 13 countries directly hit. Many recovered bodies are awaiting DNA analysis for identification.

Seebeben Opfer in Indonesien

Hundreds of bodies lined up in Aceh

The United Nations believes the true number killed by the tidal waves may never be known as many bodies have been washed out to sea and the giant waves have wiped out entire coastal villages.

Aid operation takes shape

At the same time, the UN says it is hopeful that the world will be able to meet the challenge of getting essential supplies to survivors. It says an estimated 1.8 million people are in need of food, clean drinking water and shelter.

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland was quoted as saying that the world was coming together in a way never seen before.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell and President George W. Bush's brother Jeb are headed for the region to help assess reconstruction needs. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is due in Indonesia on Thursday, where he is expected to appeal for more relief at a world aid conference.

Observers say that the outpouring of funds across the world, is finally yielding results on the ground.

Flughafen Düsseldorf Hilfe für Seebeben Opfer

Red Cross members load relief supplies on to airplanes

South Asian airports are hosting hundreds of flights daily carrying medicine, food and tents as the world's biggest relief operation since World War II, backed by $2 billion (€1.48 billion) in government pledges, swings into high gear.

In the worst hit area - Indonesia's northern Aceh province - planes carrying supplies are arriving regularly at the main airport and US, Indonesian, Australian and Malaysian military aircraft are ferrying aid to areas of need.

Relief efforts hampered

But, despite the availability of supplies and funds, the aid effort is hampered by tropical rains in Indonesia and flooding in Sri Lanka in addition to the logistical difficulties in delivering supplies to remote areas.

The situation is particularly bad in remote parts of Aceh on the island of Sumatra, closest to the epicenter of the earthquake, where roads and airstrips have been washed away and entire towns have been erased from the map.

Flutkatastrophe in Asien Indonesien Banda Aceh Flutopfer Trauer

A woman blankly stares from her makeshift tent in the middle of the road in Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh province

Deutsche Welle correspondent John Aglionby said the devastation in Aceh province was severe.

"In one of the towns there was nothing higher than six inches," he said. "People we went with were trying to find their relatives and their houses but the devastation was so bad that they couldn't even find where their houses had once been."

Chaotic scenes

Helicopters from the US aircraft carrier 'Abraham Lincoln' have begun dropping boxes of food and bottled water around the shattered city of Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh province.

Wild and chaotic scenes in some places, where mobs of desperate survivors scrambled to retrieve the air-dropped supplies, meant deliveries had to be aborted. US helicopter pilots have reported seeing bodies 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) out to sea.

John Aglionby reported that the destruction in Banda Aceh was horrific.

"We have no idea how many bodies are still buried under the rubble or sinking in the mud," he said. "The authorities are saying they're making progress in clearing the bodies, but they weren't enough troops or volunteers earlier on, mainly because so many people were dead. It's going to take months to clear the affected neighborhoods."

Indien: Großer Andrang bei der Ausgabe der Hilfsgüter

Residents reach out for food packets in Tamil Nadu

Chaotic scenes have also been reported in India's remote Andaman and Nicobar islands. Local anger is simmering there over the slow pace of the aid efforts where Delhi is reportedly anxious to control access to aid groups due to the presence of an Indian air force base.

In Thailand, local residents have complained that too much attention has been paid to European tourists and not enough to the Thais themselves. Thailand's confirmed death toll is nearing 5,000, with almost half of them foreign tourists.

Disease could claim more lives

Meanwhile, aid workers are warning that dehydration, disease and hunger are now threatening to compound the exacerbate the crisis.

Topping the list of needs is water and sanitation equipment to head off expected outbreaks of water-borne diseases. In Indonesia, UNICEF has said reports are coming in of children starting to die of pneumonia.

More than 100,000 people are living in temporary shelters and camps in Indonesia alone, many suffering from diarrhea, fever, respiratory infections and stomach problems.

European casualties

Europeans are bracing for the grim prospect that thousands of their nationals vacationing in the stricken areas may never come home.

In Sweden, Finland and Norway, which between them account for 87 confirmed dead and 4,700 missing, the loss of European life was being felt most keenly.

Seebeben Thailand deutsche Touristen zurück in Frankfurt

German survivors of the Asian disater return home

The number of Germans confirmed dead rose to 60 and well over 1,000 were still missing, Foreign Ministry State Secretary Klaus Scharioth told reporters in Berlin on Sunday. He warned that "there was no reason for any great optimism" that the missing would ever be found. He has asked relatives to supply DNA samples rather than photographs as this could be the only means of identification.

Scharioth said Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer plans to travel to the disaster area this week to see the situation there for himself. Other European countries were also counting their dead. Italy has confirmed 18 dead but a further 660 are missing, mainly in Thailand, while France said its death toll would probably exceed 150. Among other countries, nine Russians are believed to have died, while another 35 are missing.

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