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UN Gears Up Relief Operations for Asian-Pacific Disasters - VOA

U.N. Humanitarian Chief John Holmes says the world body is gearing up relief efforts and deploying teams to help the millions of people affected by severe tropical storms, earthquakes and tsunamis in the Asia-Pacific region.

At least six Asian-Pacific countries have been struck by natural disasters in the last week.

John Holmes says about three million people, mostly in the Philippines, have been impacted by Tropical Storm Ketsana. Nearly 300 were killed when Ketsana made landfall on Saturday dropping a month's worth of rainfall in 24 hours.

typhoon ketsana

Vietnam and Cambodia were also in Ketsana's deadly path. The storm caused tens of millions of dollars in damage to homes and infrastructure.

"An eight-member U.N. disaster assessment and coordination [UNDAC] team is already in Manila assisting the government of the Philippines, and of course the U.N. country team and agencies who are already on the spot. The priorities are the ones you would expect: clean water, sanitation, hygiene, food, other non-food items, health and protection," he said.

He said the United Nations is very worried about Tropical Storm Parma, which could reach hurricane strength, causing more devastation and hindering current relief operations.

Philippines

Parma could make landfall in the Philippines in the next 24 to 48 hours. Holmes warns that 8.5 million people are in the storm's path.

He said the U.N. plans a flash appeal for the Philippines early next week in the tens of millions of dollars.

The world body is also working to assist victims of four major tsunamis that were triggered by an 8.0-magnitude undersea earthquake in the South Pacific this week.

Nearly 150 people were killed when the tsunamis drove six meter high waves ashore, wiping out scores of villages and tourist retreats on the neighboring islands of Samoa and American Samoa and nearby Tonga.

typhoon Ketsana

Holmes said there is a U.N. team in the region, in addition to international support, in particular from Australia and New Zealand, which have been mobilizing supplies and medical teams to the affected areas.

And in Indonesia, the United Nations says casualties are rising from the 7.6-magnitude earthquake that shook Western Sumatra on Wednesday, trapping people under flattened buildings.

Philippines

"Telecommunications are very difficult. Electricity and water supplies are mostly not functioning. Roads are cut off also due to damage and landslides, and there are concerns about - obviously very heavy concerns - about the welfare of the population," he said.

He said that relief efforts are also being hampered by heavy rainfall.

A second strong quake shook the province of Jambi Thursday. Holmes said so far there are only reports of damage but not casualties.

He said Indonesia has welcomed international assistance coordinated through its government.

By Margaret Besheer
The United Nations
01 October 2009

Satellite photo, animation & hydrological models: NASA Earth Observatory, Kochi University and TRMM

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