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UN Reports Jobs and Shelter Critical for Tsunami Recovery

  • Lisa Schlein

Just six weeks after the catastrophic tsunami struck south Asia, the United Nations reports that people are picking up the pieces and starting to rebuild their lives.

Nevertheless, the UN's Special Coordinator for Humanitarian Assistance to Tsunami-affected Communities, Margareta Wahlstrom, says it is important to continue the relief effort until the reconstruction phase is in full swing. She notes about one-half million people, most of them in Indonesia's Banda Aceh province, will require international assistance for the next six to 12 months.

She says it is important to provide people in the tsunami-affected region with proper housing and with work. She says ensuring that people can start earning money will make a huge difference in the recovery process.

"We must not create any dependencies in this operation. So, I think very quickly efforts will really be made to cut that potential for dependency by using cash for work. As you have seen, there are many schemes, rubble clearing, where you are paying volunteers $2 a day and these are the people from the affected communities," said Ms. Wahlstrom.

In hardest-hit Indonesia, the United Nations reports more than 400,000 people remain homeless. It says tens of thousands of tsunami survivors living in isolated communities are in particular need of food and medicine.

It reports communal shelters in Sri Lanka are emptying out as people return to their home communities. It says the Maldives needs help in reviving its tourism and fisheries industries.

Ms. Wahlstrom says an interim tsunami early warning system is being built and should be functional in Indian Ocean countries within 18 months. She says such a system has both practical and psychological importance. She says Kenya shows that early warning of an impending disaster can work.

"Someone in Kenya in the meteorological services noted that there was strange behaviors in the sea and he or she sent out a warning over the national radio and TV and thereby for sure saved many peoples lives," she said. "I think only one person drowned in the end. And, this is exactly the point of an early warning system. You need someone to receive the warning and you need a system that makes people listen to you when you send out a warning."

At a major donor's conference last month, the United Nations appealed for $977 million. Ms. Wahlstrom says the UN has received about $900 million in pledges. While pledges are useful, she says it would be better to have cash in the bank.