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Last Updated: Monday, 3 January, 2005, 11:11 GMT
RAF reaches devastated province
A man surveys the devastation in Banda Aceh, Indonesia
Politicians praised Britons for their donations to tsunami relief funds
A first RAF aid plane has delivered 50 tonnes of supplies to Indonesia, the country worst hit by the Asian tsunami.

The C-17 plane will make two deliveries of British and Scandinavian equipment for the United Nations relief effort in the devastated Aceh province.

An RAF Tristar is also helping airlift supplies including one million water purification tablets, 20,000 tarpaulins and 14,000 collapsible jerry cans.

Almost 140,000 people have been confirmed dead after the tsunami.

More than 1.8m people in the disaster region need food aid, and an estimated five million have been made homeless.

The British death toll reached 40 on Sunday with five more confirmed deaths in Sri Lanka.

A Red Cross telephone helpline, funded by the Foreign Office, has been set up to offer counselling to people directly affected by the disaster.

Charity flights

The three RAF flights are part of a joint operation between the UK's Department for International Development (DFID), Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway.

We've brought in 50 tonnes of aid and we hope to be now starting a continuous programme of aid into the region
Flight Lieutenant Ian McWilliam

The C-17, the RAF's biggest transport plane, delivered forklift trucks to help unload future flights.

The aircraft's pilot, Flight Lieutenant Ian McWilliam, said: "We feel very proud of our contribution.

"We've brought in 50 tonnes of aid and we hope to be now starting a continuous programme of aid into the region."

DFID is also flying 40 tonnes of water and jerry cans, donated by Scottish Water and Strathmore Water, from Glasgow Prestwick Airport to the Maldives on Monday.

A Save the Children charter flight from Stansted Airport arrived in Colombo, Sri Lanka, at 0645 local time (0045 GMT) on Monday with supplies for 37,000 families.

The cargo included three million litres (659,921 gallons) of water, ID wrist bracelets, tarpaulins and megaphones to help reunite separated families.

Kent-based charity Smile International is also flying aid to Sri Lanka on Monday.

Identifying need

The British public has donated more than 60m to the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), an umbrella group of UK aid organisations.

"The money being raised is being put to work now," said DEC spokeswoman Jane Moyo.

The challenge now is to spend the money that has already been pledged by the British people and committed by the government
International Development Secretary Hilary Benn

Dominic Nutt, of Christian Aid, said: "We are beginning to recognise clearly where the problem areas are and who needs what."

But Oxfam organiser Mona Laczo, in Indonesia, said the charity had experienced "hugely frustrating" difficulties in delivering aid.

She said an aircraft carrying 20 tonnes of water equipment for 60,000 people had been stuck in a "plane traffic jam" since arriving in Medan on Saturday, and that the supplies might need to be taken on to Banda Aceh by road.

'We will do more'

Conservative leader Michael Howard has called on the government, which has offered 50m to the relief effort, to match the public's contribution.

Indonesian soldiers collect bodies in Aceh province
The tsunami has claimed more than 94,000 lives in Indonesia alone
But International Development Secretary Hilary Benn said: "The challenge now is to spend the money that has already been pledged by the British people and committed by the government.

"As soon as all of that is used up, then we will do more."

The government has sent two ships - the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship Diligence and frigate HMS Chatham - to the disaster area.

It has also announced that a second Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel, the Bayleaf, is being sent.

The Ministry of Defence is also sending a reconnaissance team to Indonesia's Aceh province to assess what help the UK military might be able to give.

Emergency response

Similar squads have already been deployed to Colombo, in Sri Lanka, and Jakarta, the Indonesian capital.

On BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy backed Mr Howard's earlier suggestion Tony Blair should have returned early from a holiday in Egypt following the Boxing Day disaster.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has said the prime minister was fully involved in the government's emergency response.

People can call the Red Cross helpline on 0845 054 74 74 between 0900 GMT and 2100 GMT every day.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Michael Howard and John Prescott on the disaster



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