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Last Updated: Monday, 3 January 2005, 15:52 GMT
Agencies say money is the answer
By Stephen Dowling
BBC News

US helicopter delivers aid to Kewde Teunom, Aceh province in Indonesia
Shattered communities will need to be rebuilt in the years to come
Aid agencies have said it is money - and not food, clothing, bedding or medicines - that the victims of the Asian tsunami need.

They have also been inundated with offers of help from would-be volunteers, many of them qualified tradespeople who want to work on rebuilding shattered communities.

Most have had to be turned down, although Oxfam has said it wants 10,000 people to help in its charity stores.

And BT is preparing to fly out seven telecommunications engineers to help restore phone services on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia.

Basic goods

As pledges from the UK public reached 60m, a number of charities, aid agencies and religious groups said well-meaning people were also donating large amounts of food, clothing and bedding which would probably not reach the tsunami-hit area.

They said it was too costly and time-consuming to fly the donations out to countries where the essentials can be bought at far lower cost.

Rescue workers
Medical staff are helping in the affected areas

There was a similar message to those people who generously offered their time to help on the ground in countries such as Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India.

Medecins San Frontieres, the international agency that provides doctors and medics to war-torn or disaster-ravaged areas, is among those not sending first-timers.

"We're unable to accept any of them, a spokesman told the BBC News website. "We've got people who are already registered. We don't send out people off the street. It's not good for either side."

Claire Lewis, a spokesperson from charity Oxfam, said calls from concerned plumbers, builders and other skilled people offering their services had run into "the high hundreds".

But she said the main priority now was money to buy water, food and materials to save lives.

Professionals needed

"It's symptomatic of being extremely generous, we don't see it as a negative. But at this stage it's about getting people who are professionals out there, who know what they are doing," she said.

"You would not ask someone who was not a fireman to do a fireman's job," she said.

Oxfam was sending out people who could get water and sanitation supplies set up, in an effort to prevent further deaths from waterborne or infectious disease.

Shelters are set up for victims in the wake of the earthquake

She said Oxfam's stance was to try and employ local people. "There are plumbers and electricians in Thailand and Sri Lanka, and we like to pay people locally to help put more money back into the economy."

Ms Lewis said people wanting to help rebuild the shattered communities in the future should contact Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), which has a nearly 50-year history of such projects.

Oxfam is urging people who cannot give money to the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) fund to volunteer time at some of the 900 Oxfam shops across the country, which have been open to accept cash donations.

Blankets and food

Other organisations which had also asked for materials, such as the Sri Lankan Tamil Sangam in London, has received so much that it is now appealing for help to send it to the country.

Oxfam has said its appeal for bottled water - to send to the Maldives which suffered saline contamination of its water supplies - is very rare.

"If we need blankets and food and other products we can buy them locally, rather than paying huge costs in cargo fees," Ms Lewis said.

But all agencies are urging people who want to help not to forget the communities' needs in the years to come - help is expected to be needed for the next five years.

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