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U.N. says aid reaching most of needy areas

Relief workers are close to getting at least some food to everyone left hungry by the Indian Ocean tsunami in Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Somalia, the United Nations said Friday.
/ Source: Reuters

Relief workers are close to getting at least some food to everyone left hungry by the Indian Ocean tsunami in Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Somalia, the United Nations said Friday.

There has also been progress in assisting the most isolated parts of Indonesia, the nation hardest hit by the disaster. But many there remain out of reach nearly two weeks after the giant wave struck, said Kevin Kennedy, a senior official in the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

By this weekend, the international relief effort will have delivered at least an initial shipment of food and other emergency supplies to “every person in need” in Sri Lanka, he said, estimating that figure at 750,000 people.

In the Maldives, a country made up of more than 1,200 coral islands, about 220 of which are inhabited, enough food is now on hand to aid all 50,000 people in need, and distribution has begun, he said.

Enough food to satisfy emergency needs also is in place in Somalia, a northeast African nation made up for the past 14 years of a patchwork of warring fiefdoms with little or no central authority, he said.

There, too, deliveries have begun despite the uncertain security situation and other logistic challenges, he said.

But Indonesia’s devastated Sumatra and Aceh provinces “remain the heart of the crisis and probably where our biggest challenges are,” Kennedy said.

Officials believe hundreds of thousands of people remain stranded in that area following the Dec. 26 tsunami and the powerful earthquake that triggered it.

‘Where are the people?’
While many were living in improvised camps, others were thought to have fled badly damaged coastal areas for the hilly and heavily forested interior, U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland said on Thursday.

Kennedy briefed reporters in New York shortly after U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan looked out at the scarred landscape of Aceh province from a helicopter and asked, “Where are the people?”

Kennedy said relief efforts targeting the two provinces at the northeastern tip of Indonesia’s Sumatra island would now be getting a big boost from a just-opened air bridge from Malaysia.

Flights began Thursday to air strips near the Sumatran cities of Banda Aceh and Medan by fully loaded C-130 cargo aircraft supplied by Malaysia, Denmark, Australia and New Zealand, he said.

“We are increasing our deliveries day by day of both food and non-food items,” he said.

Aid workers were also working to extend urgently needed health services to the area, he said. Officials fear that untreated injuries, respiratory disease, diarrhea and malaria could kill as many as died in the tsunami if health services fell short.