As SE Asia relief pours in, water seen as key to avoid epidemics rivaling tsunami toll

The WHO says ensuring safe water supplies and sanitation crucial to enabling safety of 3-5 million people displaced by tsunamis following 9.0 earthquake Sunday off coast of Sumatra. Official death toll shoots past 120,000, with most deaths in Indonesia. Total pledges of assistance soar to $500 million. Canadian water treatment companies look to offer assistance...

SAN DIEGO, Dec. 30, 2004 -- Following the devastating tsunamis that struck South Asia, nonprofit organizations have mobilized quickly to help victims of the disaster via the Internet. In fact, Kintera Inc., a San Diego provider of online fundraising technology to nonprofits, estimates that its clients alone -- including U.S. Fund for UNICEF and Doctors Without Borders -- will soon surpass $20 million raised online since Sunday's disaster.

"The ease and immediacy of using the Internet has already resulted in millions of dollars donated to assist the victims of this horrific tragedy in Asia," said Kintera CEO Harry E. Gruber, M.D. "These financial gifts enable organizations to quickly provide shelter, safe water, food and emergency care to those in need, especially children. But significantly more funds are critically needed to support the millions of people who have been displaced by the tsunamis."

Britain's Disaster Emergency Committee (www.dec.org.uk), a consortium of several relief organizations including the British Red Cross, had raised 20 million pounds (US$38.5 million) by this morning, while the American Red Cross alone noted that it had received $18 million.

Meanwhile, after criticism of some governments as being "stingy" in their giving, a surge in donations pushed the total amount pledged to assist in disaster relief to $500 million, according to the United Nations. A tabulation by Agence France Press (AFP) showed Great Britain in the lead at $96 million, followed by Sweden, the Netherlands and France.

Other leading government contributors included Japan at $40 million, Canada at $32.8 million, Germany at $27 million, Australia at $27 million, Portugal at $11 million dollars, Saudi Arabia at $10 million and Qatar at $10 million. Smaller contributions from 15 other countries, most of them European nations but also China, Iran and Kuwait amounted to more than 25 million dollars, according to AFP figures.

The United States, which raised its initial pledge from $15 million to $35 million Wednesday amid complaints of a UN official, said it would do whatever was required in taking a lead role along with Australia, India and Japan to coordinate relief efforts with the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The UN said the needs likely will exceed its previous record humanitarian appeal of $1.6 billion for Iraq last year.

The World Bank released $250 million in diverted and uncommitted funds to cover the next six months of the relief effort. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder suggested debt forgiveness for countries hardest hit by the 9.0 magnitude earthquake, which reportedly moved some islands and other land areas by 30 meters, and the resulting tsunamis. He singled out Indonesia and Somalia, where 100 people died due to tsunamis that struck 3,000 miles away from the earthquake's epicenter.

Twelve nations from South Asia to East Africa were affected. With at least 80,000 of the total deaths, Indonesia was the worst hit, followed by Sri Lanka, India and Thailand. Indonesia's northern city of Banda Aceh was reportedly 60% destroyed and the province suffered a death toll of over 30,000.

The World Health Organization said Thursday, "Urgent action is needed to address the emerging public health needs of between 3 and 5 million people affected by devastating tsunamis in Southeast Asia. Priorities are clean water, adequate shelter, food, sanitation and healthcare."

In a New York Times article today, the WHO said tens of thousands of survivors are at risk from diseases spread by dirty water, mosquitoes and overcrowding in areas where sanitation and potable water are limited or nonexistent due to infrastructure damage. With no confirmed epidemics to date, officials are worried about diarrheal diseases such as cholera, typhoid and shigellosis, as well as liver diseases like hepatitis A and E -- all brought on by bacteria or virus in contaminated drinking water or food and sewage. Water shortages were already reported in Sri Lanka and the Maldives and tanker trucks were necessary to provide clean water. Water purifying tablets also were being rushed to affected areas, along with medicine to treat dehydration from diarrhea.

Wisconsin Pharmacal, a small company in Jackson, Wis., and one of the world's leading producers of iodine-based water purification tablets is donating more than 10,000 bottles of EPA-approved Potable Aqua® water purification tablets to relief organizations aiding victims affected by the Asian earthquake and tsunami disaster. It has said it will also match any tablets purchased specifically for donation to tsunami relief efforts.

The Toronto Star also reported that two area companies, Trojan Technologies Inc. and Zenon Environmental Inc., had both sought to provide water treatment equipment to the relief effort. It's too early to tell whether Trojan's ultraviolet disinfection equipment will be shipped to Asia since specialists need to determine whether damage infrastructure will allow their immediate use. The company said it will make a financial donation of such is not the case. Zenon on the other hand has mobile filtration and other water treatment systems used by every Canadian military relief effort since 1991, including providing clean water in Rwanda, Bosnia and Haiti.

Germany's Munch Re, the world's largest reinsurer, told the Financial Times it estimated tsunami-related damage at $14 billion, not even a tenth of losses in Japan's Kobe earthquake in 1995 that killed 5,000 people. The reason, he said, was less industry and minimal infrastructure in the economically poorer Indian Ocean nations. Thailand plans to spend $510 million to rebuild its prime tourist destination around Phuket and Indonesia is expected to spend $1 billion in northern Sumatra, near the epicenter of the earthquake that triggered the tsunamis. Beyond that, the biggest economic impact would be from diversion of resources to the rebuilding effort in the region.

Kintera Inc. (www.kintera.com) provided the following list of organizations and web links as a sampling of the many nonprofits that are accepting online donations to aid those affected by the disaster in Asia:
-- Catholic Relief Services: www.catholicrelief.org
-- Doctors Without Borders: www.doctorswithoutborders.org
-- American Red Cross-Metropolitan Atlanta Chapter: www.redcrossatlanta.org
-- U.S. Fund for UNICEF: www.unicefusa.org or call 1-800-4UNICEF (86-4233)
-- World Vision: www.worldvision.org

Other Emergency Relief Organizations
If you would care to assist in the humanitarian response to the disaster through another organization, feel free to contact the following:
-- American Red Cross: www.redcross.org or 1-800-HELP-NOW (435-7669)
-- Americares: www.americares.org or call AmeriCares directly at 1-800-486-HELP (4357)
-- CARE: www.care.org or 1-800-422-7385
-- Oxfam: www.oxfamamerica.org or 1-800-77-OXFAM (69326)
-- Save the Children: www.savethechildren.org or 1-800-728-3843

Although it does work for improved water quality in Asia, Africa and Latin America through its programs, Water For People, a Denver-based independent organization supported by various organizations and companies in the water industry, pointed out that it is not an emergency relief organization. Instead, it pointed people to another list of organizations found at the MSNBC website: Asia's Deadly Tsunami.

You can specify to direct your donations to South Asia Earthquake/Tsunami Relief Effort, but remember that a number of other areas of the world also may continue to need assistance as resources are redirected to this region.

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NOTE: This article was compiled from a variety of sources, including Business Wire and PR Newswire.

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