Norway sends disaster aid to Asia

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Norway’s Red Cross and a host of other organizations were standing by on Thursday, ready to offer disaster aid to victims of Wednesday’s devastating earthquake on Sumatra. By Friday, help was on the way to the stricken Indonesia island, along with aid already organized for victims of storms in Southeast Asia and the tidal wave that rammed into Samoa and Tonga.

Norway’s Foreign Ministry announced Friday that the Norwegian government would be sending NOK 20 million in additional aid to quake victims on Sumatra and flood victims in the Philippines, on top of the NOK 300 million channeled through the United Nations’ emergency aid fund.

The situation on Sumatra remained difficult to assess two days after the quake, because of communications breakdowns, difficulties arranging transport to the island and the massive destruction. In addition to the Red Cross, CARE Norge and the Norwegian chapter of Save the Children (Redd Barna) were among the organizations trying to get their aid workers to the most heavily hit area around Padang on Sumatra. Several Norwegian doctors specializing in setting bone fractures were also on their way to Sumatra on Friday.

Save the Children was hoping to raise NOK 60 million (nearly USD 10 million) through an emergency worldwide appeal to help victims. The most immediate need, according to aid workers on the scene, was heavy lifting equipment to remove rubble and try to save the thousands of people feared to remain trapped under it.

Børge Brende, secretary general of the Red Cross in Norway (Norges Røde Kors), earlier had said that the Indonesian Red Cross mobilized more than 70 rescue teams on West Sumatra, in and around Padang. They were assessing the damage, trying to get survivors out of the rubble and providing emergency medical assistance.

“We’re following the situation constantly and are ready to help,” Brende said. “The Red Cross in Norway has worked with the Indonesian Red Cross for many years to strengthen their efforts. This has been an important part of the long-term efforts made after the tsunami hit the area in 2004.”

Norway’s Red Cross also set up an appeal for donations on its website, to help victims of the storms and floods in the Philippines, Vietnam and Cambodia, where hundreds of thousands of people are now homeless. Red Cross units from the US to New Zealand were rushing to the aid of tsunami victims on Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga.

Norway’s Foreign Ministry was also following the disasters throughout Asia closely, not least in the Philippines where several Norwegian companies are active and many Norwegians live. Erik Solheim, the government minister in charge of foreign aid, said Norwegian officials also were in close contact with the United Nations, regarding the need for help and financial aid.

“Money is set aside to help when natural catastrophes occur,” Solheim said. The UN was likely to appeal for more aid on Friday, after making a new assessment.

Around 250 persons are believed to have been killed by the floods in Manila, around 100 by the tsunami in Samoa and more than 1,000 are confirmed dead on Sumatra, with the death toll rising.

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