Vol. 5 Num 215 Fri. December 31, 2004  

South Asia
Sri Lanka appeals for more aid

Sri Lanka yesterday appealed for more aid as it plodded on with the sickening task of burying bloated corpses in the struggle to prevent outbreaks of disease piling more misery on its shattered population.

The island country said nearly 22,800 people died in the tsunami nightmare that wrought havoc on Sunday and urged world lenders to further open their coffers to help deal with the aftermath.

At the country's only international airport, authorities struggled to unload cargo aircraft queuing up with urgent relief supplies sent by dozens of foreign governments and international aid agencies.

Twenty one aircraft were queuing at one stage Thursday morning with traffic controllers clearing a disused runway and old hangers to park planes. The airport usually handles only a couple of dozen international flights.

While wealthy countries have already pledged tens of millions of dollars in aid for the countries hit by the disaster, the Sri Lankan foreign ministry said they needed more.

Sri Lanka relief committee head Tilak Ranavirajah said all efforts were being made to expedite relief services.

"Foreign medical teams from Italy, France, Japan, Turkey, Spain and Israel have been despatched to affected areas," Ranavirajah said.

He said wells in Galle and Batticaloa districts were being chlorinated to ensure safe drinking water as fears of water-borne disease rose.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga on a visit to southern districts Thursday said the government would prohibit new construction along the coastline in future to avoid such a disaster again.

Rumours of another tsunami sent coastal residents fleeing and state television repeated announcements calling for calm, quoting the meteorological department as saying there was no threat of a repeat strike.

The appeal followed reports that several people had been injured in a stampede in the coastal districts of Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Matara.

As the state machinery continued its relief effort, a convoy of five World Food Programme trucks headed to the rebel-controlled north-eastern regions of the country. A similar convoy left late Wednesday.

The rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has asked for urgent financial and medical assistance to help victims in remote areas. The government has said it is willing to help.

"Relief goods, medical supplies and personnel, including special aircraft received from Russia have already been deployed in the north and east," the foreign ministry said.

Relief committee spokesman Anthony Fernando said speedy burials of rotten corpses was continuing along the coast to help stem the threat of disease outbreaks.

Many bodies are still lying where they were washed up.

"An all-round war-like effort is on to bury bodies, supply relief items to the affected people and also urge global efforts to tackle the crisis," the spokesman said.

"There are problem areas as this is the first time we are doing anything like this. But we are taking a grip on the situation."

For their part, the Tamil Tiger rebels said they were mobilising all their combat and civilian units for the gigantic task of caring for more than a million people made destitute.