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Red Cross tackles tsunami waste threat in Maldives

Tuesday May 17, 2005

Australian Red Cross has signed an agreement with the Government of the Maldives to clear away tsunami debris and waste on 70 islands of the tiny island nation in the Indian Ocean.

The CEO of Australian Red Cross, Robert Tickner said today the project would directly benefit about 50,000 people and would cost AUD$11.2 million.

The Tsunami Debris and Waste Clearance Project agreement, signed last week in the Maldives, partners the Red Cross Societies of Australia and Canada.

Mr Tickner said the financial cost of the project would be shared by the two national societies with Australian Red Cross expected to contribute around AUD$6 million over the next 18 months.

He said the Maldives faces a major challenge with waste disposal, a problem exacerbated by the 26 December tsunami. The nation was highly dependent on ecotourism and fishing and effective waste management was vital to ensure future livelihoods of affected people.

According to the UN Environment Programme, the tsunami created an estimated 290,000 cubic metres of waste. While the authorities and communities have cleared away debris, much of it has so far only been pushed to one side.

Even before the tsunami, the Maldives faced serious difficulties in disposing of its waste in a sustainable, environmentally friendly way. The Maldives is made up of hundreds of mostly tiny islands in atoll groups. Land is scarce and the sea has been used as dumping ground for the ever-increasing supply of rubbish and waste. A combination of tsunami waste and domestic waste now presents a real health hazard. Debris is also blocking access to beaches, delaying construction.

Australian Red Cross water and sanitation expert Selina Chan (NSW) has been in the Maldives for five months. She says, 'Tsunami waste is a big problem here. It includes oil barrels, asbestos and rusting building materials which leak into the ground water. This has detrimental effects on coral reefs which are important for the fishing and tourism industry - the two biggest sources of income for the Maldives.'

Since the disaster, Red Cross has provided non-food items such as blankets and plastic sheeting for 10,000 people, medical supplies and other shelter materials such as corrugated iron roofing. In addition, 22,000 people have benefited from 32 generators installed on the tsunami-affected islands, which restored electricity supplies and enabled operation of desalination plants to produce clean drinking water.

The Tsunami Debris and Waste Clearance Project is one of some 30 tsunami projects already identified by Australian Red Cross that are in various stages of development or implementation. Others programs across tsunami affected countries include building of homes, restoring blood services, disaster management, emergency health, livelihood support, psychosocial programs, rebuilding community services, health services as well other programs of long-term support.

Australian Red Cross raised $105 million for the Asia Quake & Tsunami Appeal.