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Hundreds of Thousands of Acehnese Flood Victims in Desperate Need

The International Organization for Migration says it is stepping up relief operations in flood-hit districts of the Central Highlands of Aceh in Indonesia. IOM says tens of thousands of people remain without proper shelter, food and other basic assistance several weeks after heavy floods swept through the impoverished Sumatran province. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from IOM headquarters in Geneva.

The floods in the Indonesian province of Sumatra began December 22, almost two years after the devastating Asian tsunami hit the same region. An estimated 350,000 people, who still have not recovered from that disaster, are affected by severe flooding.

Over 100 people died and several hundred are still unaccounted for as water swept away villages and infrastructure in the worst affected districts. The International Organization for Migration says the seasonal rains are expected to continue through the next two months.

Spokesman, Jean-Philippe Chauzy says the needs are enormous. He says aid agencies are poised to help, but the logistics of getting humanitarian relief to flood victims in the remote Central Highlands are daunting.

"A lot of the bridges have been destroyed, because the roads have been swept away and also because the terrain is very difficult terrain," Chauzy says. "Roads are almost impassable. And, we are looking now delivering aid literally on horseback, using donkeys and in some cases walking up to 20 hours to reach some of the most isolated villages to provide assistance."

Chauzy says the relief and rehabilitation operation will go on for months, probably longer. He says IOM recently received a $250,000 grant for lifesaving activities from the UN Central Revolving Emergency Fund.

He notes this is not a lot of money. But, it is enough to allow IOM to step up its relief operations in the hardest hit districts. He says rebuilding the shattered infrastructure will require a great deal of time and a great deal of money.

"Roads were swept away, bridges were destroyed," Chauzy says. "Those will have to be rebuilt. We also need to provide assistance to those that have been affected by the floods and there the needs are going to be quite enormous in terms of providing some kind of livelihood assistance programs to those 350,000 people who have been displaced by the floods."

Chauzy says last week, IOM trucks began repositioning food aid from the U.N. World Food Program from the provincial capital Banda Aceh to a town on the East Coast. He says the coastal town is more accessible to the flood-stricken Central Highlands. He says the operation is continuing this week.

He says other convoys are delivering non-food relief items, including blankets and kitchen utensils, buckets and water purification tablets.