01/21/2005, 00.00
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Death toll still rises as reconstruction starts

Rome (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Four weeks after the tsunami, the number of dead in south-east Asia keeps on climbing.  But at least aid is arriving in vast quantities and reconstruction has started.

With the death toll now standing at 225,000, the catastrophe ranks as the third-worst natural disaster in the past 100 years with some 56 countries suffering casualties.

So far, the international community has pledged some US$ 10 billion in aid.

Indonesia was hardest-hit—166,000 people are confirmed dead. Aceh province on the northern tip of Sumatra Island suffered more than 50,000 casualties and tens of thousands are homeless and dependent on foreign aid.

Indonesian President Susilo prayed today in Banda Aceh's Baiturrahman Grand Mosque. "I ask our brothers and sisters here to look ahead, to rebuild Aceh for a better future," he said after the Friday service.

The bill for reconstruction is expected to reach US$ 4 billion over five years.

Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda said the disaster might push the government and the armed separatist Free Aceh Movement, back to the peace table. For now however relief operations are delayed by rumours of possible separatist attacks and by army restrictions on NGO activities.

The US military working in the area on relief operation announced that it would withdraw its forces by the end of February and be replaced by civilian relief operators.

The Indonesian government had announced that it expected all foreign military personnel to be out of the country by March 26.

In Sri Lanka, the tsunami killed 31,000 people. More than 400,000 people are still being sheltered in public buildings, temples and churches along the island's coast.

Reconstruction costs to restore the three-quarters of its shoreline devastated by the tsunami are expected to top US$ 3.5 billion.

There might also be some political fallout from last month's quake as well. Norway's Foreign Minister Jan Petersen and its peace envoy Erik Solheim are trying to ensure that international aid bring Tamil separatists and the Sri Lankan government back to the negotiating table.

India is mourning its 10,000 dead and 5,000 missing, mostly on the Adaman Islands, which are located near the quake epicentre. On Katchal Island alone 4,400 people are still missing.

Officially, 1,879 people died on the islands but independent sources claim 15,000 dead.

Refugees camps on the Indian mainland (in the states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh) are now shelter to 378,000 people. Some 2.7 million people were affected by the tsunami.

India has refused international aid and allocated US$ 500 million for aid and reconstruction.

In Thailand tsunami-related deaths now stand at 5,322, many of foreign nationals.

Losses in the fishing industry amount to US$ 500 million; losses in tourism are set to be more than US$ 250 million a month.

In popular tourist resorts like Phuket and Phi Phi Islands reconstruction is already underway. (LF)

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See also
UN urges donors at Jakarta conference to give US$ 1bn for tsunami emergency
UN World Tourism Organisation in Phuket to discuss industry recovery
Islamic laws suspended because of Tsunami emergency
Paris Club agrees to freeze Asian debt
No aid to Burmese tsunami victims


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