Agencies Focus on Relief as Death Toll Nears 81,000

Many who escaped death from one of the worst tsunamis in history fought for survival against thirst and disease as rescuers scoured remote coastlines around the Indian Ocean for survivors of Sunday's devastating sea-water surge. Meanwhile the World Health Organization's health crisis team said up to five million people lacked the basic essentials to survive.

With nearly 81,000 confirmed dead, UN and other experts warned that rotting corpses, smashed sewers, contaminated water and a lack of food and shelter, along with mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue fever and malaria, could wipe out weakened survivors in their tens of thousands.

"The immediate terror associated with the tsunamis and the earthquake itself may be dwarfed by the longer term suffering of the affected communities," said David Nabarro, the top official at the World Health Organization dealing with humanitarian crises.

"Perhaps as many as five million people are not able to access what they need for living," Nabarro said. "Either they cannot get water, or their sanitation is inadequate or they cannot get food."

World Vision, one of the largest Christian relief and development organizations in the world, reported that its relief teams are continuing in their efforts on the east coast of India, providing relief to thousands of families affected by the tsunami.

"Cooked food is being distributed to around 3,000 families in Andhra Pradesh and Tamilnadu. Meanwhile, assessment teams have been sent to villages around Cuddalore and Nagapattinam-two of the most affected areas of Tamilnadu," the World Vision reported.

The agency is currently procuring food, clothes, utensils and medicines to put together seven-day relief packs, to be distributed among families in need while additional assessment teams are heading towards Pondicherry-a former French colony-as well as Kannyakumar, the district that is lands end in India. "Damage figures that are coming from these areas show there may be greater need in these areas," reported the agency.

According to the Associated Press, the Indian government said 6,974 deaths have been confirmed, but the toll was expected to climb as police officials said 8,000 people were missing and possibly dead in India's remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands, located just north of Sumatra. So far, 90 deaths from the archipelago were among the ministry count.

World Vision has been invited to be the lead agency in responding to the disaster in Kollam, Kerala on the west coast of India where the tsunami had wreaked havoc.

Meanwhile in Sri Lanka, World Vision has begun assisting in tsunami relief efforts in the southern-most coastal areas of Sri Lanka, including Galle, Matara and Hambantota.

"As well as clean-up efforts, and taking care of the living, there is the gruesome task of dealing with the bodies of the thousands of people killed by the catastrophe," World Vision reported.

The World Vision team in Galle-about 60 miles from Colombo-has been providing assistance to the Karapitiya Hospital. The hospital is the only large medical facility in the district, with other hospitals considered unsuitable for caring for the injured.

"From the time of the disaster on Sunday, to date, more than 1,200 bodies have accumulated in the hospital mortuary," said Dr. Eric De Soysa, the house officer at the Karapitiya Hospital.

AP reports that some 22,493 have been killed in Sri Lanka's government and rebel controlled areas while more than 1 million people were displaced.

Of the 12 countries in southern Asia and Africa hit by Sunday's massive earthquake and tsunami waves, Indonesia suffered the most casualties with at least 45,268 people killed--all on Sumatra island. However the government has only just begun counting deaths in districts on Sumatra's hard-hit western coast, meaning the final toll will almost certainly rise significantly.

Other reported death tolls include Thailand with 1,829 confirmed deaths, Somalia with at least 100, Myanmar with about 90, Malaysia with at least 65, Maldives with at least 69, Tanzania with at least 10, Seychelles with three, Bangladesh with two, and Kenya with one.