Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Diggers bring clean water to Banda Aceh

Source: AAP

Hundreds of desperate Acehnese lined up for lifesaving clean water when Australian army engineers distributed supplies in the tsunami-hit city.

The engineers from Darwin have set up a mobile water treatment and purification plant, easing fears of disease.

Guarded by Indonesian troops, they handed out five-litre water bladders from the back of a trailer.

"One bottle only, one bottle only," Warrant Officer Allan Lewis called out in quickly learnt Indonesian as the crowd surged forward.

"Hurry, hurry. What is the delay?" people shouted back.

More than a week after the tsunami, rotting bodies were still being found in rivers and harbours in the province.

Sewage also may have contaminated water supplies, leading to fears that potential epidemics of killer diseases like cholera could bring fresh tragedy to the devastated region.

Health experts have warned an epidemic could double the death toll from last Sunday's epic natural disaster, which struck shores as far afield as India and Sri Lanka, killing more than 140,000.

The demand for fresh water is so great the Australian site has been surrounded by barbed wire and armed Indonesian soldiers stand guard around the perimeter.

The commander of Australia's military medical team already in Banda Aceh, Greg Norman, said the water was being distributed in 15 places in Banda Aceh by the international aid agency Oxfam.

"We are also talking to the Americans about getting some extra plants in here, because fresh water is crucial to heading off a disease outbreak," he said.

He said members of a 90-strong Australian medical team, including surgeons and intensive care specialists, would also reach the area within days.

They would probably help staff a multinational medical team based in the city's main public hospital, which until now has been used as a makeshift morgue.

"The German army is sending around 100 medical staff and so are the Mexicans," he said.

"They will be able to help our guys, but first the hospital has to be cleared of the dead. It's still pretty messy in there."