NGOs Up Relief Efforts in Wake of Tsunami Disaster

The consequences of the Indian Ocean earthquake, which registered a 9 on the Richter scale and tsunamis continue to escalate. 135,000 are dead, as many as 5 million people are homeless and displaced, while millions more face death from hunger and disease. Several aid relief organizations and NGOs are responding with increased efforts.

The earthquake struck off the coast of Indonesia's Sumatra Island around 7 a.m. Sunday and triggered enormous tidal waves that swept across the Indian Ocean, wrecking havoc on the coastal regions of Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Bangladesh, Burma and Malaysia.

Salvation Army personnel serving in most of the affected areas immediately swung into action after the tidal waves struck. Meanwhile, disaster relief experts flew out to S. Asia from their base in London, UK to help coordinate the efforts.

The Salvation Army’s aid has taken the form of practical help, rescuing people trapped in the wreckage of their homes, providing water, food, clothing, medical supplies and temporary shelter, and counseling shocked people.

In addition, the Salvation Army has taken it on themselves the responsibility of some camps set up for the homeless people.

For the long term, Salvation Army aid workers will tackle the problems arising from the loss of homes and livelihood suffered by hundreds of thousands of people. The economic cost of the tragedy is expected to reach billions of dollars. To fund the purchase of the massive amount of supplies it will need to carry out its aid program, The Salvation Army has launched a special South Asia Disaster Fund.

Habitat for Humanity is also working to aid the victims. HfH has a presence in six of the 12 affected countries, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Malaysia and Bangladesh. The organization is working with local Habitat offices and international partner organizations to assess and respond to short- and long-term shelter needs.

Habitat for Humanity has also launched an emergency appeal to help facilitate the rebuilding. HfH is now working with other organizations to construct semi-permanent shelters and repair damaged homes. Assessments indicate that foundations of many homes remain intact, while everything above the foundation was knocked over by the tidal waves.

Habitat for Humanity staff in Sri Lanka estimate that some damaged houses could be made habitable for between $50 and $100, depending on the damage and the amount of materials that can be salvaged from the destroyed or damaged home.

Habitat’s first priority is to assist the existing Habitat homeowners and the Save and Build members and then turn our attention to the millions more who are now in need of a safe, decent, and affordable place to live.

Habitat will work with the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (CHA) a group of more than 60 international, national and local nongovernmental aid organizations, with the national director of Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka serving on a Disaster Management Team set up by the CHA to plan the best possible options. Today HfH is hosting the Christian Network of NGOs (CNET) in order for organizations to complement each others’ work and expertise.

A relief group from UNICEF is on the ground coordinating activities. The first wave of relief from UNICEF came today in the form of emergency medical kits for victims of the Boxing Day Earthquake and tsunami which contain basic medicines and first aid gear. Another $10 million dollars worth of supplies are on the way.

In addition, UNICEF has now begun to support government and local communities to assess the number and whereabouts of unaccompanied children.  It is estimated that children account for more than one-third of tsunami deaths. Figures are not available, but with a high death toll of now 130,000, it is highly likely that there are thousands of separated children across the region.

As relief efforts continue unabated, many worry that media coverage of the disaster will slowly but surely dwindle. Prayers of the people are now needed to help assuage the enormous "human tragedy" that has just hit during this holiday season.