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Relief Workers Step Up Efforts For Solomons Tsunami Victims

Locals line up to help unload a barge of Red Cross aid in the tsunami-hit town of Gizo in the Solomon Islands, 08 April 2007. Aid is slowly trickling in after last week's devastating earthquake and tsunami in which at least 39 people were killed and more than 5,500 left homeless after the 8.0-magnitude earthquake rocked the western Solomons, triggering the deadly giant waves. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Neil Sands
Gizo, Solomon Islands (AFP) April 09, 2007
Efforts to get relief to tsunami victims on isolated islands in the western Solomon Islands stepped up a gear Monday following criticism that devastated villages were being left to fend for themselves.

Amid the chaos, some signs of normal life started to return to the Western province capital of Gizo, one of the worst affected areas. The market reopened for the first time in the week since last Monday's 8.0 magnitude quake and tsunami.

"Some people have also started going out fishing again. People's lives have been devastated but there are some signs of normality returning," Red Cross official Susie Chippendale said Monday.

Five vessels are being used to ship emergency supplies out to remote areas, and Chippendale said some supplies had been dropped off to settlements throughout the devastated region.

There are plans to drop off enough food and supplies to keep the displaced people going for the next week, she said.

UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination team member Peter Muller said the relief effort was now running to plan, following a slow start to the operation.

"There have not been any alarming issues coming up," Muller told a briefing.

Aid agencies and the government have put the death toll at 39, but expect it to rise after full reports come in from outlying areas of the Western and Choiseul provinces of the impoverished South Pacific nation.

The number of deaths reported on the island of Simbo has been reduced to nine from 12, but the toll on Gizo island has gone up to 20, the government said in a statement.

According to aid agency World Vision about 6,000 people were left homeless, and those in low-lying areas whose homes were left intact are refusing to return, fearing the continuing aftershocks could cause another tsunami.

A UNICEF team arrived in Gizo Sunday to implement measures aimed at preventing outbreaks of cholera and dysentery after cases of diarrhoea were reported in the days following the tsunami.

The risk of water-borne diseases is being reduced with the distribution of water purification tablets and equipment.

"Hopefully, the risk of disease is pretty much under control now," the Red Cross's Chippendale said. Canadian-based aid agency Global Medic arrived at the weekend with 550,000 water purification tablets and 10 water filtration systems, which can each provide drinking water for 1,500-1,700 people.

They also brought enough tropical medicine kits to treat 30,000 people and hygiene kits for 15,000, team member Rahul Singh said.

Already the relief teams are looking beyond the victims' immediate needs to see how food supplies and shelter can be assured over the next few months.

Many crops were destroyed by the tsunami and landslides, and fishing areas on coral reefs were also damaged.

Aid organisations plan to distribute tools to villagers so they can build shelters.

"We've got timber. Give us nails and hammers and we can make ourselves shelters," villager Harison Gago told AFP Saturday at Pienuna, on the island of Ranongga.

Chippendale said it was hoped machetes and other tools would be distributed early this week.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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