IRC's Tsunami Aid Efforts Gain Momentum
The IRC aid effort in the devastated Indonesian province of Aceh is gaining momentum. IRC medical teams and logistical staff have begun arriving in the region to provide urgent assistance to the survivors, and plans are underway to expand the relief effort to outlying areas in desperate need of assistance.
The IRC, operating in Indonesia within the CARDI consortium, is one of the few international aid organizations that were working in Aceh prior to the disaster, having provided assistance there since 2001. Its presence on the ground and familiarity with the local context are critical assets in the current humanitarian response. And in spite of having lost homes and family members to the tsunami, all IRC staff in Aceh are anxious to start contributing to the aid effort.
"Their spirits are high in spite of their personal losses," says IRC's acting country director Aitor Lacomba. "Some of them have already traveled to Medan on the east coast of Sumatra to set up a logistics sub-office.
"Our office and warehouse in Banda Aceh are still standing, but everything inside the office is destroyed and must be replaced," says Lacomba. "An IRC vehicle is on the roof of the office due to the force of the devastation."
The gruesome task of collecting and disposing of bodies in Aceh's main town of Banda Aceh is slow as authorities are overwhelmed by numbers and poorly equipped. "If local authorities do not remove the bodies within the next few days, our staff will try to do so and bring the bodies to the central identification center," says Lacomba.
All but one of IRC's local staff have been located.
"Aceh is full of people wandering the streets searching for relatives and friends among the dead bodies, says Lacomba. "As many people have left the city, we remain hopeful that he is alive. In the meantime we are doing all we can to find him."
Access in the disaster area remains extremely limited. Airports are overwhelmed and almost all roads and bridges in Aceh are destroyed.
"We will need boats for both staff and supplies. With the coastline decimated, the boats will have to traverse very shallow waters. We will also use motorcycles as a few roads are accessible this way. We are also looking into the short-term leasing of helicopters."
Plans are underway to begin relief operations in and around the devastated fishing town of Meulaboh in western Aceh.
"The casualty rates in Meulaboh defy imagination," Lacomba says. "Tens of thousands need immediate assistance there."
The IRC is bringing in essential medicines and clinical supplies for 250,000 people for a three-month period. Meanwhile, IRC staff have begun distributing hygiene kits to help prevent an outbreak of disease. More than 40 tons of emergency medical supplies, shelter material and water storage tanks are currently being airlifted to Indonesia to meet the needs of tens of thousands of survivors. The IRC will also distribute urgently required shelter material, blankets, water containers and other items.
According to the latest estimates, the disaster has claimed almost 100,000 lives in Indonesia.