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Asia: Some Tsunami Relief Efforts Delayed By 'Bottlenecks'

The United Nations says governments around the world have pledged some $2 billion dollars in emergency aid to help the survivors of last week's cataclysmic tsunamis. But even as new pledges are being made, authorities in the disaster-struck region face a logistical nightmare that is delaying the disbursement of aid to some survivors. UN officials now say they fear the eventual death toll will top 150,000. Thousands more people are still listed as missing.

2 January 2005 -- Aid workers from around the world have descended on the Indonesian island of Sumatra in an effort to bring relief to some of the millions of people who have been struggling for survival since last week's deadly tsunamis battered thousands of kilometers of coastline along the Indian Ocean.

At Sumatra's only regional airport -- a limited capacity facility at Medan that has been designated as a emergency relief base -- volunteers have been working together with Indonesian troops to unload food from incoming flights. With cargo planes backed up on the runway, there are reports of a chaotic log jam of supplies.

Correspondents say the hardest part of the operation is to get food and emergency medical supplies out of the airport and sent on to areas where roads, telephones, boats, and harbors have been destroyed. U.S. and Indonesian military helicopters were being used today to get some of the aid shipments out.

Isabella Lardeux-Gilloux is an aid worker for the French-based Firemen Without Borders. She is among the international aid workers appealing for more cargo helicopters to fly supplies directly to places like the battered Indonesian province of Aceh.

"The first thing is that we want to be able to settle base camp in which we will have a hospital for the people so that we can give medical assistance. And then will have also a purifying water unit. And then we'll build something from there. And it's going to be able to reach 2,500 people," Lardeux-Gilloux said.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called for a major logistical operation to help the half a dozen countries hit by last week's tsunamis. Annan also has warned of the possibility of "bottlenecks" slowing down the delivery of emergency supplies.

So far, the largest aid pledge is from the Japanese government. Tokyo has promised to contribute $500 million to help survivors. The United States has pledged $350 million in aid. The U.S. Navy already has positioned an aircraft carrier off the coast of Sumatra and is using it as a mobile relief base.

Four Indonesian navy frigates with relief supplies also have arrived off the coast of Sumatra. Those ships are trying to deliver aid to Meulaboh -- one of the worst-hit areas in Sumatra.

Other countries also are struggling to come to terms with the scale of the disaster.

India's cabinet secretary B.K. Chaturvedi yesterday announced a plan for determining how international financial aid will be disbursed to the local governments in India that are dealing with the disaster.

"We had earlier sent personnel for medical staff. But we are sending the central team to these states on Tuesday [4 January] to discuss with the state governments their requirements. And based on it, appropriate funds will be given to them," Chaturvedi said.

In Thailand, where more than 4,000 people are now confirmed dead and thousands more remain missing, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra today visited the worst hit areas. While the threat of epidemic has officials around the world concerned, Shinawatra predicts there will not be any major outbreak of disease in his country.

"We can assure you that we can control everything in perfect condition. There will be no disease outbreak here in Thailand. We handle things properly. And also, we've sent some advice to the villages about how to keep things sanitary. The Health Ministry has sent people out to take good care of how we treat the corpses and everything to make sure we will have no disease outbreak," Shinawatra said.

Meanwhile, memorial ceremonies have been continuing across the region for those killed by the rushing waters.

UN officials say it could take 10 years to rebuild the infrastructure and economies of coastal areas that were shattered by the surging waters.

(Compiled from wire reports)