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UN Says Tsunami Death Toll to Rise Exponentially

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The United Nations' top emergency relief official, Jan Egeland, says the death toll from the December 26 tsunami may rise much higher as more information becomes available from the isolated western coast of Sumatra.

Mr. Egeland says relief workers are now focusing on the western coast of northern Sumatra. He says they are just beginning to fully grasp the level of devastation caused by the earthquake and tsunami in that area.

"The coast is low. It took the full blast of the tsunami which was at its highest and many, many of these villages are gone," he said. "There is no trace left of them. They had hardly roads before. Now they have nothing. The death toll will grow exponentially on the west coast of Sumatra. What will be the final toll, we will never know. But we may be talking of tens of thousands of further deaths in this area. The town of Meulaboh, nearly 50,000 inhabitants, has perhaps been the most devastated of any town anywhere, even much more than Banda Aceh."

Mr. Egeland describes reaching the isolated communities of Sumatra as a logistical nightmare.

The U.N. relief coordinator says the international response has been overwhelming with donations coming from non-traditional donors, including some of the poorest nations in the world, and unprecedented military and humanitarian assistance. But he expresses concern that the world's generosity to tsunami victims may undercut the United Nations' upcoming 2005 consolidated appeal for two billion dollars for other emergencies.

"Yes, I am afraid that some of this money that might be directed for Africa is now being directed to very vital relief work among tsunami victims," Mr. Egeland said. "I appeal to the rich world. The rich world should be able to foot the bill for feeding all the children in the world."

Mr. Egeland says the world must pay greater attention to the catastrophes that take place every day in Africa.

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