Massive Humanitarian Relief Mission Supports Tsunami Victims
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 9, 2005 The largest humanitarian relief effort since the Berlin Airlift in 1947 is providing desperately needed water, food and medical supplies to victims of the tsunami in the Indian Ocean, the general coordinating air support for the operation told reporters today.
U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Jan-Marc Jouas, director of the Combined Support Force Air Component Coordination Element based in Utapao, Thailand, called the relief effort "a monumental task" but said he is impressed by the extent of the international response and the speed with which it has come together.
Tremendous distances between the affected nations and destruction at many airfields following the devastating Dec. 26 tsunami have challenged the relief effort, Jouas said. However, C-130 transport aircraft are currently able to land at one site in Sri Lanka, three in Thailand and three in Indonesia. From these sites, as well as airfields in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Singapore, rotary-wing aircraft and trucks are then ferrying relief supplies to tsunami victims.
In addition, the U.S. Navy is playing a big role in delivery supplies in ship- to-shore operations that eliminate the need to use damaged or overcrowded airfields.
Jouas said the search continues for more runways to expand the airlift support to the region.
During today's morning talk shows, Secretary of State Colin Powell stressed that the United States must plan to give long-term support to the region during the long recovery period ahead.
"This is a long-term prospect," Powell said on ABC's "This Week" today following his visit to the region last week. He said he intends to tell President Bush during a Jan. 10 meeting at the White House that the United States must help fund not just "immediate humanitarian relief, but also infrastructure development."
Powell told CNN's "Late Edition" he is confident the president will be willing to increase the United States' current $350 million pledge for disaster relief to the region, if deemed necessary over time. However, he said it's important to continue assessing need to avoid flooding the area too quickly with more supplies and more financial assets than are yet needed for rebuilding.
Rebuilding timetables will vary throughout the region, Powell said. Banda Aceh, Indonesia, one of the hardest-hit areas, will take "years" to rebuild after much of it "was scraped to the ground," the secretary said. Other areas will return to relative normalcy much more quickly, he said.
In addition to delivering water, food and medical supplies, the relief effort is also focused on providing sanitation and shelter for some 1.5 million people left homeless following the Dec. 26 disaster, according to Tom Fry from the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Fry, who leads USAID's disaster assistance response teams, said the relief effort will soon become a rehabilitation effort. Rebuilding people's livelihoods is as important to their long-term survival as rebuilding homes, he said.