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Earthquake disaster: how to help

December 30, 2004 This article courtesy of Nature News.

Five million people in the area affected by the tsunami are thought to be in desperate need of aid. News@nature.com explains who is doing what to help, and how you can donate.

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Following the disastrous waves that left more than 100,000 people dead in Asia on Sunday, governments and organizations face the huge challenge of helping the survivors to cope with the devastation that has been left behind.

The scale of the disaster is unprecedented. As many as 5 million people in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, the Maldives and Somalia are thought to be in urgent need of aid, with lack of clean drinking water and the spread of disease the most immediate dangers (see " Asia grapples with tsunami aftermath").

Experts at the United Nations expect that addressing the situation will require billions of dollars. All of the organizations below are accepting donations online, and phone numbers are also given where appropriate.

United response

Various institutions linked to the United Nations have taken a lead in collecting and distributing support for victims of the tsunami. The UN World Food Programme ( www.wfp.org) is sending truckloads of emergency food supplies to the area, including rice, wheat flour, lentils and sugar.

Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency UNHCR ( www.unhcr.ch) continues to supply emergency shelter for those whose homes were washed away.

In Britain, a dozen aid agencies have formed an umbrella group known as the Disasters Emergency Committee ( www.dec.org.uk) to provide people in the affected region with food, shelter and clean water. Member organizations include the British Red Cross (www.redcross.org.uk), Oxfam ( www.oxfam.org.uk) and ActionAid ( www.actionaid.org.uk). Callers in Britain can dial 0870 60 60 900.

Children in need

Children represent the most vulnerable part of the affected population, and many require medical attention to treat injuries and prevent water-borne disease. The UN Children's Fund, UNICEF ( www.unicef.org), is accepting donations to aid youngsters in need.

The American nonprofit organization Save the Children USA ( www.savethechildren.org) has mobilized teams to meet the basic needs of children in South Asia and established programmes to help them recover from the emotional trauma of surviving the catastrophe. You can donate online, or people in the United States can call 1-800-SAVE-THE-CHILDREN to make contributions.

Another charity devoted primarily to children is the Christian organization World Vision ( www.wvi.org), which uses donations to make food, clothes and utensils available to families in ravaged areas.

Across borders

Médecins Sans Frontières ( www.msf.org), also known as Doctors Without Borders, sends sanitation equipment, hospital supplies and teams of medical experts to help survivors in need of treatment.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies( www.ifrc.org) is providing water-sanitation services, reuniting families and distributing relief supplies. US callers can reach the American Red Cross ( www.redcross.org) at 1-800-HELP-NOW.

The International Rescue Committee ( www.theirc.org) brings people safe drinking water to protect against the spread of disease and will also distribute emergency supplies such as plastic sheeting for shelter and blankets. In the United States, donations can be made by calling 1-877-REFUGEE.

Oxfam International ( www.oxfam.org) has sent many items to affected countries, including hygiene kits to Indonesia and thousands of food packs to Sri Lanka. In the United States, donations to the nonprofit organization can be made by calling 1-800-77-OXFAM.

Faith-based aid

Faith-based agencies such as the British Christian Aid ( www.christianaid.org.uk) continue to donate funds and provisions to help those affected by the disaster. Callers in Britain can reach Christian Aid on 08080 004 004.

The international charity Islamic Relief ( www.islamic-relief.com) hopes to raise €3 million ($4 million) to assist people in the region. Those interested in making a donation can call the UK number +44 (0)121 622 0622.

The Salvation Army ( www.salvationarmy.org) is helping to feed and clothe residents of relief camps, including fishermen and their families left homeless by the tragedy.

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