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Tsunami aid agencies battle poor sanitation

News

SANITATION FOR the hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the Indian Ocean tsunami was this week the biggest concern for aid agencies working across the region.

In Indonesia, where the immediate recovery operation is still in full swing, aid agencies have reported camps of up to 13,000 people a time without access to basic sanitation.

And in Sri Lanka, Unicef and Oxfam engineers were this week deciding whether to allow water sources to become polluted in a bid to stave off disease within the 400 camps for those displaced.

Three weeks after the disaster struck there have been no reported outbreaks of disease within the affected regions.

But the aid agencies fear this will change if adequate sanitation cannot be provided.

'Remarkably there have been no major outbreaks of anything.

The population is generally in good health and well nourished and they are reasonably careful with their own personal hygiene, ' said Oxfam chief water engineer Paul Sherlock.

'Although people are in good shape now, our concerns are that they are going to be living in camps and unless they are dealt with properly they will not stay like that, ' he said.

Sherlock is in Colombo providing technical back-up to lead water and sanitation agency Unicef.

In Banda Aceh, Indonesian government attention is focused on clearing the streets of the provincial capital of debris.

This has left the aid agencies to address sanitation issues.

Oxfam engineers are establishing sanitation facilities for 60,000 people in makeshift camps across Indonesia. In Banda Aceh alone latrines have been built for 10,000 people.

But Swiss engineer Daniel Schmidt, working for the International Red Cross, said much more needs to be done:

'Things seem more or less under control in Banda Aceh but there is still quite a lot to do. There are a lot of scattered cases of people living outside of camps.

'The government thinks it would be better to bring people together in specific places and we are prefabricating toilets for that purpose, ' said Schmidt.

'The set-up will be water engineers working with local Red Cross volunteers. Where we intervene we will do it with local volunteers.' In Sri Lanka focus has shifted to providing a reasonable standard of accommodation for the 100,000 displaced families while permanent homes are rebuilt.

Oxfam wants to install pit latrines for each family but doing so will pollute water sources as the water table in the affected coastal regions is only 1m to 2m below ground.

'It is actually easier to move water supply than latrines, so we have to weigh up if it is better to use latrines that pollute the water supply and bring water in from outside, or keep the water clean and deal with excreta in the camp community, ' said Sherlock.

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