The United Nations' global relief coordinator, Jan Egeland, says no time limits should be put on military aid to the areas affected by the December 26th tsunami. Mr. Egeland's comments follow a U.S. State Department comment that Indonesia has set no deadline for the departure of foreign forces.
Military airplanes and ships have been providing medical supplies, fuel, food, heavy equipment and desperately needed clean water to Aceh and Sumatra in Indonesia, the areas worst hit by the tsunami. But government forces and separatist rebels in the devastated region have been involved in a civil war for 30 years. Indonesia says it will restrict the movement of foreign relief workers and at least one official, Vice President Jusuf Kalla, is calling on foreign troops to leave by the end of March.
But relief coordinator Jan Egeland says aid workers have yet to experience any restrictions. He says Aceh and Sumatra will continue to need outside help after March because of the depth of the destruction and the lack of infrastructure. Mr. Egeland says 10 helicopters donated to the U.N. relief effort are now being painted white, the color for civilian vehicles.
"I think there is a need for military assets beyond March, but nothing even close to the army that we have today. We should in the next few weeks be able to phase out many of the military assets and have them substituted by civilians. But I hope that our Indonesian friends and colleagues will accept that it is the needs of the population that will decide when military assets should be phased out completely. There will be many more weeks' need for very substantive military presence," he said.
Mr. Egeland says it will be another week before the human toll of the disaster is clear because of the inaccessibility of areas of Aceh and Sumatra and because so many of the people still considered missing actually fled to mountains and forests. But the U.N. relief chief says the global community's quick response to the disaster may avert the so-called second phase of death from disease and injury.
"The biggest threat is diarrhea, measles, pneumonia. The second wave is being averted in most places as we speak. I do not think it is the correct prediction anymore that as many people will die in the second wave as we feared in the beginnings. For the hundreds of thousand of i.d.p's (internally displaced persons) and unaccounted for in Sumatra and Aceh, we are still in an uphill battle," he said.
Mr. Egeland announced an international conference on disaster reduction next week (starting January 18)in Kobe, Japan, the site of a devastating earthquake 10 years ago. Much of the focus will be on developing a global early warning system for the three billion people in the world who live in areas prone to natural disaster.