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Red Cross Says Work On Tsunami Recovery Progressing

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says great progress has been made in helping hundreds of thousands of Indian Ocean tsunami victims recover from the disaster two years ago. But the Red Cross says recovery will not be complete for several years and is urging the international community to remain engaged. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Red Cross headquarters in Geneva.

On December 26, 2004, the Indian Ocean tsunami killed an estimated quarter of a million people. It devastated the lives and livelihoods of millions of people in five countries. The cost in property and infrastructure ran into the billions.

There was an outpouring of generosity from the international community never before seen. Billions of dollars were contributed to the aid effort and aid agencies responded with vigor.

Johan Schaar is Special Representative for the tsunami for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. He says there has been a lot of intensive reconstruction activity during the past two years. And, the effort is paying off.

He said, "When you travel to the affected countries, it is very encouraging to see how people are now moving back into their homes and how economic life is returning to the affected countries."

"Reconstruction which was pretty slow during the first year, for good reasons, is now really picking up pace and it is visible when you visit the affected countries," he added.

The Red Cross received about $2 billion for tsunami aid. It has spent about 40 percent of that on shelter, infrastructure, health, education and other services in Indonesia, the Maldives and Sri Lanka.

Schaar says some of the obstacles encountered by aid agencies relate to the remoteness of the affected region.

He said, "Logistical challenges. The still partly unresolved issues around land titling and land ownership in Aceh in particular. And, of course also, the conflict in Sri Lanka which has escalated exactly in the parts of the island where the tsunami hit the hardest."

The Indonesian province of Aceh bore the brunt of the tsunami. Aceh had been involved in a 10-year conflict with the government. Because of this, Schaar says aid workers initially had little access to the region.

This, he says, slowed down reconstruction activities. But, peace has come to Aceh and the task of rebuilding is moving along more quickly.

He says the situation in Sri Lanka has evolved in a less fortunate manner. Since the tsunami, he says the fighting between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels has made it impossible for aid workers to help the victims recover.

"Some of the people that were displaced by the tsunami have been displaced a second time by the conflict," he said. "And, of course, this is of very great concern to us."

The Maldives is a small country with many islands spread over a large area. Although the death toll from the tsunami was relatively low, the Maldives infrastructure, tourism and fisheries industries were devastated.

Schaar notes construction material and labor have to be imported. This has made the recovery expensive and slow. But, he says, good progress now is being made.