US prepares to scale back aid operation
21 January 2005
US forces are preparing to wind down tsunami relief efforts with international aid likely to begin focusing on reconstruction soon, Admiral Thomas Fargo, chief of the US Pacific Command, said yesterday.
But even as he made the comment, aid workers warned that people in Aceh were going hungry because air drops had not reached them yet.
Admiral Fargo said after a tour of tsunami-devastated areas that it was time to gradually reduce the military's huge initial aid deployment.
"We are pretty much past the immediate relief phase and we are rapidly moving toward what you would call rehabilitation and reconstruction," he said in Malaysia, near the end of a seven-day trip that also took in Thailand, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.
The US has sent more than 16,500 personnel to tsunami-stricken countries and deployed the aircraft carrier, USS Abraham Lincoln, as a base for relief flights into Aceh, where more than 160,000 people have been killed.
"We will start right now transferring functions to the appropriate host nation and international organisations," Admiral Fargo said.
Singapore announced last night that it was pulling nearly all of its 1000 military staff out of Aceh. The Defence Minister, Teo Chee Hean, said: "It's time to turn it over to private groups. We don't want to stay a day longer than we're needed."
A United Nations official in Aceh warned yesterday that emergency aid deliveries to remote areas would have to increase sharply to avoid serious hunger problems. Daniel Augstburger, head of the UN's Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the coastal city of Meulaboh, said not enough help was reaching people outside major urban areas.
"The French are starting to move food, of course the Americans ... are moving food out, but this has to increase tenfold, I would say," he said.
Mr Augstburger said that despite a huge international relief operation involving several countries' military forces, there were still not enough helicopters and boats available to deliver aid. He said things could become "very serious" in outlying areas.
"The magnitude of the needs are such that we might be here for a pretty long time," he said.
Langdon Greenhalgh, from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said in Banda Aceh there were "small pockets of communities" of hundreds of people that "have not received international assistance as of yet".
American volunteer nurse Linley York said she had heard reports from an Indonesian working with her that people in a camp in the village of Beurawang, north of Banda Aceh, were eating leaves.
Meanwhile, in Washington, the US Deputy Defence Secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, called for a political solution of the conflict in Aceh between separatists and Indonesian forces and said that if the Indonesian "military gets in the way of that, then the military should be pushed out of the way".
Mr Wolfowitz said there was a "chance to move to a new era that would benefit the whole region".