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Tsunami Victims in Sri Lanka Wait for Aid

  • Anjana Pasricha

In Sri Lanka, officials say bureaucratic incompetence has kept aid from reaching many victims of the December tsunami. The island country has received a steady inflow of international aid in the wake of the disaster.

The top official coordinating relief operations in Sri Lanka, Tilak Ranavirajah, says 70 percent of the one million people affected by the tsunami still have not received help from the government.

It is more than five weeks since tsunami waves battered Sri Lanka's eastern and southern coastline, killing more than 30,000 people. A huge amount of relief material has poured into the country since then.

Mr. Ranavirajah blamed bureaucratic bungling and ignorance on the part of tsunami survivors for the slow aid distribution. Most of the people affected lived in poor, rural communities, and lacked the education and skills to apply for aid and deal with red tape.

The government has promised to expedite relief efforts.

The head of the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Colombo, Alasdair Gordon-Gibson, agrees that many people still need to be reached.

"Clearly the statistics are showing that there are huge gaps in the range of distribution," he said. "Even today the government has acknowledged that they need to step up … all of us need to step up activities. No doubt there are communities which are still waiting to get assessment and relief agencies moving into them."

But aid agencies say the relief effort is slowly gathering momentum. They point out that the government is handling a crisis on a scale never seen before.

Mr. Gordon-Gibson says the huge relief operation requires complex logistics.

"The dynamics of this particular emergency have been quite unusual. It's a ribbon of at least 700 kilometers of coastline which were comprehensively destroyed … so actually targeting that ribbon, that long stretch of damage like that, is a much more challenging operation than for example an earthquake in a confined, very clearly delineated area, " he said.

Earlier in the week, hundreds of people demonstrated outside the World Food Program office in Sri Lanka complaining they had not received food rations.

On Wednesday, the World Bank, the Asian Development bank and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation called for transparency and accountability to ensure that foreign aid is effectively utilized.

The government estimates it will need $100 million over the next six months to feed tsunami survivors and compensate the families of those who died.