UN volunteers help coordinate relief for tsunami victims in South Asia
30 December 2004

Bonn: The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme, in coordination with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Country Offices and the Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery (BCPR), is deploying volunteers in several South Asian countries to help governments, NGOs and other UN agencies provide relief to thousands of people who have lost their homes and family members in the tsunamis of 26 December.

The tsunamis have reportedly left nearly 70,000 people dead and millions homeless in eight countries: Burma, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Somalia, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Thousands are still missing and the United Nations and other aid agencies warn that the toll could be much higher due to the after-effects of disease.

A total of 10 UN volunteers are being deployed in the four worst affected countries - Indonesia, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Thailand – to act as resource persons to coordinate information, response and relief at local and national levels.

The volunteers, who are professionals with experience in relevant fields, will work with UNDP and BCPR disaster management teams to support local and national governments in disaster information collection and dissemination, damage and relief need assessments, and in relief coordination.

Among the first to be deployed are Devyani Dey and Thachapilly Deepa from UNV India. Devyani will assist in relief activities in Sri Lanka, which has taken the brunt of the disaster with nearly 22,000 people dead and more than a million rendered homeless.

She has been working with the UNDP in Orissa state since 2000. As UNV Country Office Assistant, her primary role includes acting as a focal point for emergency information and relief coordination. She played a key role in providing support for UNDP operations during the floods in Assam in 2001 and in Bihar in 2002.

Deepa has been sent to Maldives to help in relief activities there. An emergency health management specialist, she worked during the floods in Orissa in 2001 and 2002. Working with the Natural Disaster Risk Management programme of the UNDP for the past three years, she has been providing technical and managerial assistance in reducing health-related vulnerabilities of communities in post-disaster periods.

Deepa is joined in Maldives by UNV Programme Officer for Bhutan, Christopher Whitehouse, who is currently in the island country and is staying back to help the UNDP Country Office there with the coordination of relief efforts.

The current deployment of UN volunteers in the disaster-affected countries once again highlights the importance of the South-South Cooperation for Disaster Risk Management initiative, being developed by UNV in partnership with UNDP/BCPR.

In 2003, UN volunteers from India reached Sri Lanka within hours after torrential rains flooded five districts of the island nation, affecting 600,000 people. The UNVs assisted government officials in the worst affected areas with streamlining information, damage assessment and distribution of relief. They also acted as focal points at district level for local and international donor assistance.

"They proved a very valuable source of support, and, no doubt, helped enhance the government's effectiveness in dealing with the disaster," said Miguel Bermeo, the UNDP Resident Representative and UN Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka.

In June 2004, six National UN volunteers were assigned to the National Plan for Disaster and Risk Management, a UNDP project in Haiti . They were the first UN affiliated persons to assist the victims of the floods that killed over 1,000 people and left thousands of others homeless in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

From: UN Volunteers, Germany

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