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Volunteers deployed in response to South Asia disaster
28 December 2004

With over 20,000 dead and millions displaced and homeless due to the recent devastating earthquakes and tsunamis, volunteers are being deployed to help deliver relief and prevent crisis in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Thailand and other neighbouring countries.

United Nations volunteers in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and India are on their way to help assess the situation and provide more information on damage, needs and priorities of the affected countries.

National UN volunteers in India are being tapped by the Indian government and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to assist in providing emergency relief materials for Sri Lanka, the country most devastated by the calamity.

Indian UN volunteers are also being considered as a potential resource to support the Government of Maldives, on a longer-term basis, to address both emergency relief and recovery planning. Most of these volunteers are trained and experienced in disaster preparedness, mitigation and response. They have provided valued services in other disasters such as the Sri Lanka floods in early 2004.

Volunteers from other international agencies such as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Cresent (IFRC) and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have begun to evacuate survivors, dispense first aid and provide tents, blankets, water and food within the affected countries.

In the Indonesian island of Sumatra, local Red Cross volunteers and soldiers are combing coastal districts and digging into the rubble of destroyed houses to look for survivors and retrieve the dead.

“We are working 24 hours to get people out," said Red Cross worker Tamin Faisil in Banda Aceh on Sumatra.

The International Federation today plans to send medical supplies for 100,000 people into Sri Lanka, from Copenhagen, Denmark.

MSF is sending additional emergency aid workers to South Asia over the coming days. Additional medical teams will be leaving with a cargo of drugs, medical supplies, water and sanitation materials, as well as high calorie dry rations and other materials needed by survivors.

This calamity was the deadliest known tsunami since the one caused by the 1883 eruption of the Krakatoa volcano, also located off Sumatra, which killed an estimated 36,000 people.

Almost a third of the dead are children. Many thousands of people are still missing, and millions homeless in 11 countries from Indonesia to Somalia. More than 6,000 people were killed in Indonesia, more than 4,000 in India and more than 1,000 in Thailand.

In Sri Lanka's severely hit town of Galle, officials mounted a loudspeaker on a fire engine to advise residents to lay bodies of the dead on roads for collection and burial. Elsewhere in Sri Lanka, residents took on burial efforts with forks or even their bare hands.

From: IFRC, UNDP, MSF, BBC News, The Guardian