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Aid Goes Wanting for Tsunami Victims

January 3, 2005

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Despite their best efforts, food and other aid is spoiling on docks because some of the areas hardest hit by the Sumatra tsunami are still inaccessible by road. The amount of food and other perishable materials that have been donated by people around the world has been staggering, aid officials say, but they are dispairing of getting that aid to the people who need it before it spoils.

Entire villages were washed away in Sumatra and Sri Lanka. The people who fled inland or who otherwise survived the devastation are badly in need of relief, but the roads that used to be there for them are a memory, replaced by a quagmire of devastation. In some parts of western Sumatra, aid was being transported by ferry, down newly made waterways. The area of Aceh has been particularly hard hit, but officials were having a difficult time getting aid to those still alive there. The difficulty in Aceh has been because the area is one of the poorest in the region and has no standing infrastructure, or way of getting things to different parts of the region. Aid workers have been reduced to slogging through water-fouled territory to distribute food and medicine to individuals. Helicopter aid drops have been effective in some areas, but their effectiveness in Aceh has been minimal.

A few days ago, international relief organizations such as the Red Cross and UNICEF urged people who wanted to help to donate money and not food or clothing because the shipping costs would be so enormous as to counteract the benefits of the donations. Electronic giving, rather, especially by credit card over the Internet, has been particularly effective at putting money directly in the hands of those who need it most—aid workers on the scene.

Another element hampering the distribution of food and medicine is something that aid officials would rather not admit is happening—piracy. Opportunistic pirates are now sabotaging aid shipments, taking food and medicine for themselves and leaving starving people to starve.

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