PM Lee says leaders and world bodies should meet to form united relief effort
By Chua Mui Hoong
Senior Political Correspondent
SINGAPORE has called for an urgent meeting of Asean leaders, preferably as early as next week, to coordinate responses to the tsunami tragedy in the region.
As the scale of the disaster becomes known and the death toll mounts each day, topping 118,000 so far, it is clear that no one country can provide relief alone, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at an Istana press conference yesterday.
An international effort is needed. So, as it did during the pan-Asian Sars crisis last year, Singapore is suggesting Asean convene an urgent leaders' meeting.
This should include leaders from Asean, badly-hit India and Sri Lanka, as well as China, South Korea, Japan, the United States, Australia and New Zealand, and representatives from the United Nations, World Bank and World Health Organisation.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi and Thai Premier Thaksin Shinawatra all support the proposal.
Singapore would like to see the meeting conclude with a specific outcome, for example, with a request to the UN to establish a special emergency relief fund, and to appoint a special representative to coordinate the international relief effort.
Singapore's call comes a day after Washington proposed a 'core group' made up of the US, Japan, Australia and India to lead relief efforts.
Yesterday, Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi also called for an extraordinary summit of the Group of Eight leaders to discuss responses to the tsunami.
The affected countries have to band together, said Mr Lee.
The Asean meeting proposal is a key plank of Singapore's response to the quake disaster off Sumatra on Sunday that unleashed tsunamis across the Indian Ocean.
While untouched physically, Singaporeans feel the tragedy keenly, noted Mr Lee. So far, seven Singaporeans are among the dead, 18 are missing and 227 remain uncontactable.
'We are part of this region where it has happened and we have to respond,' said a sombre Mr Lee, stepping up to his first major crisis since becoming Prime Minister four months ago.
The Singapore Government is raising its contribution to relief efforts from $2 million to $5 million and is prepared to do more if needed. The money includes $1 million to the Singapore Red Cross for its fund-raising drive, which has already raised over $5 million.
Singapore is also sending helicopters and ships, and disaster rescue, humanitarian and medical teams to Indonesia and Thailand totalling over 650 people. These deployments, for two weeks in the first instance, cost $20 million.
Mr Lee said: 'This is a very significant, major deployment for us. We've never done anything on this scale before, so we are pushing the limits of what we have done previously.'
While the tsunamis are not expected to have a major economic impact on Singapore, hitting mainly tourism sectors in affected countries, Singaporeans have to be psychologically prepared in another respect, said PM Lee.
Although few Singaporeans are affected now, the death toll may rise, as some among the missing and uncontactable people may not survive.
'It's a very anxious time for the families. They are worrying about their loved ones...We share their concerns, our hearts go out to them.'
Dec 31, 2004 S'pore sends relief team of more than 650
By David Boey
SINGAPORE is used to sending overseas aid missions of about 50 uniformed personnel at a time, but the scale of assistance it is extending in the tsunami tragedy is 10 times larger.
Over 650 personnel will be involved. Already, around 300 are on the ground, with 200 in Aceh, which bore the brunt of Sunday's underwater quake, and 100 in Phuket.
More aid will leave today when a Landing Ship Tank, a 141m Navy support ship, leaves for Sumatra, where it is expected to sail along the west coast to deliver supplies to wrecked coastal villages and towns. There will be 350 personnel involved.
The deployments for the first two weeks will cost an estimated $20 million.
At an Istana briefing yesterday chaired by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean said that Singapore's teams will begin working with the Indonesians today to get to remote places on the west coast area, like Blangpidie, and the islands of Pulau Simeuleu and Pulau Nias.
Noting the enormous challenges involved, Mr Teo said work has been proceeding apace so far.
The 25-member medical team sent to Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh, was starting work on the ground, and two Chinook heavy-lift helicopters that went in there yesterday were 'doing a particularly good job'.
They have been able to fly fairly long distances, about 240km, or 150 miles, from Medan into the worst affected areas, including to the town of Meulaboh, which has been completely devastated.
'They have been able to fly into that area. It's a difficult flight, about 150 miles across the Barisan range there, which is 5,000 to 10,000 feet high.
'It's a big helicopter, and I think it will be able to do some useful work. It carries 55 people, 20,000 pounds,' he said.
The two Chinooks airlifted relief and medical supplies and handed them over to the authorities in Banda Aceh.
Over in Thailand, four RSAF helicopters - a pair of Chinooks and two Super Puma medium-lift choppers - were sent yesterday morning to aid the Thai government's relief efforts in Phuket, where 144 Singaporeans are missing or unaccounted for.
Earlier, at a send-off ceremony for the helicopters, Mr Teo commended SAF planners for their swift response.
'They were basically tasked within 48 hours of being activated, and our medical team was tasked and ready to go as well,' he said.
The minister also pledged that Singapore would help the Indonesians 'as much as possible', and expressed gratitude to Thai authorities for helping Singaporeans in the country.
'We hope the resources we are sending will also be helpful to the Thai authorities in their overall relief efforts,' he added.
Dec 31, 2004 Want to help the victims? Cash is best
Shipping of food and clothing takes time and is costly - and items may not meet needs
By Theresa Tan and Yap Su Yin
RELIEF agencies have learnt the hard way that the best intentions of generous people who want to help in a tragedy do not always have the desired results.
That is why the Singapore Red Cross and international relief agencies now say, if you really want to help in a crisis like the tsunami tragedy, give cash.
The Singapore Red Cross began its policy of collecting cash only after the 1999 Turkey earthquake which killed about 17,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless.
Singaporeans gave two container-load of clothes which reached the victims only about 40 days after the disaster. It had taken more than a month to collect, sort, pack and ship.
'The people didn't receive our clothes very enthusiastically,' said its manager of International Services Lim Theam Poh.
People also donated food items, but the food was not what the victims were used to eating. And some items had pork, which Muslim Turks cannot eat.
Cash donations allow relief agencies to meet the needs of victims better.
Red Cross chairman Winston Choo said yesterday: 'At this stage, we are not sure exactly what the needs are. The affected countries themselves are not quite organised or ready to receive.
'For us to send things that they don't already need will be counter-productive. So we ask for money, so that when we know what we can do, we can use the money to buy things.'
United States President George W. Bush gave Americans similar advice, saying cash donations would help organisations 'focus resources and assets to meet specific needs'.
'A lot of times, Americans, in their desire to help, will send blankets or clothes. That may be necessary, but to me it makes more sense to send cash,' he said yesterday.
Others that also prefer cash, not kind, are Care, a humanitarian organisation active in 70 countries, and International Rescue Committee, a relief group active in 25 countries, Reuters reported.
'It's too expensive to ship stuff abroad. Then, the logistics of getting goods to the site are often very complicated,' said Care spokesman Lurma Rackley.
Relief group Oxfam International accepts goods but prefers cash.
It has many stories about inappropriate offers. 'We received donations of high-heel shoes for East Timor,' said Oxfam official Caroline Green in a Reuters report. 'Cash enables us to scale up quickly, buy needed equipment and start getting out relief.'
Singapore Red Cross vice-chairman Jeffrey Chan said that by buying medical supplies, rice and clothes from the country itself, 'we not only support that country's industries, but cuts down the cost of sorting, storage, customs and transport'.
The Sri Lankan and Indonesian embassies in Singapore, overwhelmed by the deluge of supplies donated, are also asking for cash.
'We can't afford more containers to take the donations to Sri Lanka,' said a Sri Lankan Embassy spokesman.
Indonesian diplomat Chalief Akbar said: 'It's easier to channel these funds to buy medical and relief supplies over there.'
SriLankan Airlines has also stopped accepting donations in kind temporarily because of the 'staggering supplies'.
Mr Jan Egeland, the United Nations emergency relief coordinator for the tsunami disaster, said that there are also different needs at different times.
Often, relief workers find after four or five weeks that they have too much of some supplies that they do not need at all, and are desperately short of other things that are not arriving quickly enough.
Unicef Executive Director Carol Bellamy said that in the first stage of tsunami relief work, getting safe water supplies is critical.
So water purification tablets and oral re-hydration salts to combat diarrhoea are a priority.
Sanitation facilities and food, medical supplies and shelter equipment, such as tents and blankets, are also given in the first stage.
Then, the various aid agencies will address the longer-term needs for a more permanent shelter, education, psychological support and replacing lost livelihood of entire communities.
Disaster relief professionals also advise those keen to volunteer in the afflicted countries to reconsider.
'Unless you can go there and be effective, don't go. You will drain local resources, which are already stretched,' said Red Cross' Mr Chan.
DONATIONS to the Singapore Red Cross Society's 'Tidal Waves Asia' fund crossed the $5 million mark yesterday with entrepreneur Sim Wong Hoo contributing $500,000, the single biggest personal donation to date.
The company he founded, Creative Technology, donated another $250,000.
Other big donors include MasterCard International which gave $412,500 and Nokia with $100,000.
DBS Bank customers have also contributed almost $800,000 in donations in less than two days, primarily through the Internet.
'We are very pleasantly surprised by the compassion and generosity of Singaporeans,' said its spokesman, Ms Eunice Woo.
The bank began accepting donations at 5pm on Tuesday.
A tally on Wednesday night revealed people had given $647,000 through the Net and $148,000 via its network of 780 ATMs here. This sum does not include donations collected yesterday.
'The biggest donors were two individuals, who gave $10,000 each,' Ms Woo said. However, she could not give more details about them.
When news of the disaster caused by the massive killer waves broke, the bank approached the Red Cross, offering the use of its channels for donations. Its officers took just six hours to add the Red Cross to its list of beneficiaries, instead of the usual 'two to seven days'.
During the Sars crisis in April last year, the bank also accepted donations for the victims and health-care workers via the Internet. Then, it collected $190,000 over a period of three weeks.
OCBC Bank is also accepting donations for charity via ATMs, over the phone and online. United Overseas Bank customers will be able to donate via its banking channels by this weekend.
Dec 31, 2004 Religious groups also active in raising funds
By Liza Lin
ALL the major religious groups in Singapore have joined in the outpouring of help following the tsunami disaster. Many have started organising efforts to raise funds for the victims.
Roman Catholic churches: The 30 Catholic churches in Singapore will make an appeal for donations at all masses this weekend.
National Council of Churches, Singapore (NCCS): It is encouraging its churches to have an extra collection during services this weekend for the victims.
Hindu Endowments Board: Collection boxes for devotees and the public to drop in cash or cheques will be set up at 24 temples islandwide and at shops and restaurants along Little India.
A tent collecting cash and cheques will be set up in front of the Little India Arcade in Serangoon Road. Tomorrow, a garage sale will be held at Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road (7am to 1pm and 5pm to 9pm).
Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (Muis): Cash collection during prayers at all mosques today.
The public can also donate by cash or cheque at Muis' reception counter at the Islamic Centre of Singapore, 273, Braddell Road, during office hours. They can donate online at www.muis.gov.sg and by Nets and CashCard at the 254 AXS machines islandwide.
Buddhist Fellowship: On Jan 7, a team of four to six volunteers headed by Firefly Mission will take supplies and medicine to Sri Lanka.
Singapore Buddhist Federation: From now to Jan 9, donations will be collected at more than 100 Buddhist groups and temples.
Taoist Federation (Singapore): Donations will be collected at nine places of worship during the Prayers for World Peace Ceremony 2005 tomorrow.
Sri Lankaramaya Temple: From now to Sunday, money and items such as blankets, medical supplies and water-purification tablets will be collected.
SINGAPORE has urged South-east Asian governments to fund a warning system for tsunamis after the sea swell on Sunday killed more than 80,000 people.
'I hope we can introduce an early warning system for tsunamis similar to the one operating in the Pacific region. All countries in South-east Asia should get together to pay for the system,' Minister for Transport Yeo Cheow Tong told reporters yesterday.
Tremors from Sunday's earthquake off the north coast of Indonesia's Sumatra island were felt as far away as Singapore, but the city-state itself was unscathed, being sheltered by Sumatra and the peninsula of Malaysia.
Mr Yeo noted that Australia and the United States had offered to help develop such a system but he gave no time-frame for setting it up or estimate of the cost.
Governments had earlier opted not to set up a warning system because it would be highly expensive and tsunamis in the region were rare. -- REUTERS
Singapore offers to be UN regional disaster coordination hub
By Farah Abdul Rahim, Channel NewsAsia
SINGAPORE : Singapore has offered to be the United Nations' regional tsunami disaster coordination centre, extending its offer of not just military bases and facilities but also office space, too .
This move is aimed at easing the congestion of relief supplies heading to tsunami-affected countries.
Also, the police are calling for families with missing loved ones to come forward with their DNA samples.
Nearly 800 Singapore personnel are currently doing their part in tsunami-hit areas like Phuket and Aceh, where the LST RSS Endurance landed earlier on Sunday to begin its operations of clearing roads and setting up a field hospital there.
This makes it the biggest humanitarian relief effort by Singapore so far.
And Singapore wants to do more -- it is already in talks with the United Nations for the island to be the organization's regional disaster coordination centre.
Said Andrew Tan of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, "We see this as an imperative because of the reports we've been receiving. Aid is building up at ports and airports; the system is becoming overloaded. We are concerned if we don't address this situation quickly, if we don't come in pre-emptively to offer our facilities and bases for the UN relief agencies to do their work, we may have to bear with another crisis of sorts."
One week after the tsunami, the operation is now shifting gear from a search and locate strategy to the inevitable -- that of search and identification, with a call for families of those still missing to come forward with their DNA samples.
Ng Joo Hee, CID deputy director, said, "I was in Phuket yesterday. The bodies being recovered now are in a very bad state; badly decomposed, can't even tell the race and most bodies have no hair and are naked. It's important to get dental records or DNA to match bodies found with the missing."
The CID has 17 disaster victim identification officers on the ground in Phuket collecting DNA samples and dental records to help in the identification process.
And with the new school year kicking off this week, the contact centre expects the number of Singaporeans still listed as uncontactable to narrow.
That will give a better indication of just how many Singaporeans have been affected by the Boxing Day tsunami. - CNA
Actually ppl have been asking them they they collect such fees when ppl call in to donate for all other forms of charity. I dont care if they charge the shit out of those who call to vote taufik, but surely donations should be a diffrent matter altogether?
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