Relief efforts in Solomons 'chaotic'

April 5, 2007 - 4:24PM

Aid workers in the earthquake and tsunami ravaged Solomon Islands on Thursday said relief efforts were chaotic and warned of growing health risks for thousands left homeless in squalid camps.

The United Nations put the death toll from Monday's magnitude 8.0 quake and tsunami at 34. Solomons officials have previously said 28 deaths were confirmed, but more were expected.

Authorities have estimated the number of homeless at around 5,600. There has been no official tally of the missing.

"We are under-resourced, we need bigger vehicles," said disaster official Jonathan Taisia at the main Red Cross centre in hard-hit Gizo town, as a chartered helicopter landed with the latest load of tarps and food.

But much of the aid coming into Gizo wasn't being distributed beyond depots because of vehicle shortages, and a lack of workers to load trucks or clear debris that has severed road links to outlying villages, he said.

Drinking water is in extremely short supply on Gizo, the island on which Gizo town sits, as is food and medicine. Most aid was being delivered to Munda, on a nearby island, and a shortage of boats hampered efforts.

Most of the local fleet of canoes and other vessels was destroyed by tsunami waves up to 5 metres high that crashed ashore within minutes of the offshore quake Monday morning.

In Honiara, the capital, officials scrambled to find enough supplies to cope with the disaster in the northwest of the country, an impoverished chain of some 200 islands with a population of around 550,000.

"The recovery operation is not going as fast as expected because of delays here in Honiara," said Alfred Maesulia, an official in the Prime Minister's Department.

"Suppliers don't have the volumes of relief materials we need to send."

The risk of disease mounted.

A senior Red Cross official this week said some children in camps in Gizo were suffering diarrhoea. National Disaster Management Council chairman Fred Fakarii warned cholera, malaria and other diseases were diseases were also a potential threat.

At a makeshift clinic at a survivor camp on high ground behind Gizo, nurse Hugo Losena bandaged bone fractures, stitched cuts and struggled to treat internal bleeding - the most common injuries among the three dozen people who have slept on sodden mattresses at the camp since the disaster.

About 20 people have been evacuated by helicopter from Gizo, he said, but many other areas were still to be reached more than three days after the disaster.

"There are many more injured people on Limbo island and we haven't been able to get them off," Loosen said.

A New Zealand military transport plane unloaded an aid package of tarps, water and food rations in the town of Munda late on Tuesday, following a shipment of similar supplies delivered earlier by a police patrol boat. Six doctors and 15 nurses reached Gizo on Wednesday.

An Australian air force transport plane left Sydney before dawn on Thursday loaded with humanitarian relief supplies bound for the Solomons, an Australian Defence Department official said.

It landed in Munda on Thursday afternoon.

Papua New Guinea has committed one million kina ($A415,000) to relief operations in the Solomon Islands and parts of PNG.

PNG Prime Minister Michael Somare on Thursday sent a message of condolence to the Solomons people following the disaster.

"I send our sincere condolences to the people of Western and Choiseul provinces who have lost their loved ones in this disaster," Somare said in a statement.

He also acknowledged the damage done to PNG villages in Buin, in the south of Bougainville, and on the Rossell Islands.

Meanwhile, Solomon Islands High Commissioner to Australia Victor Ngele on Thursday said he was deeply touched by the messages of support and offers of assistance from the diplomatic community in Australia following Monday's double disaster.

He noted Australia's initial pledge of $A2 million and a pledge of $A122,000 from the Turkish Ambassador Murat Ersavci in Canberra on behalf of his country.

Survivors terrified by the more than 50 jolts that have struck the region since Monday's quake - including several registering magnitude 6 or stronger - are afraid to come down from the hills where they have taken refuge.


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