AITAPE TIDAL WAVE VICTIMS NEVER SAW PNG GOVERNMENT FUNDS, SAY AID WORKERS

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SISSANO, Papua New Guinea (July 20, 1999 - The National)---Survivors of the three tidal waves that killed at least 2,500 people here a year ago never received aid money promised by the Government, aid workers said.

Former Prime Minister Bill Skate promised K 2 million (US$ 790,000) to help rebuild fishing communities in Sandaun province devastated by the July 17, 1998 disaster.

"The K 2 million from Mr. Skate never got here," said Ben Keri, an aid worker and navy commander in the PNG Defense Force, Maritime Element.

The funds never arrived or were wasted ferrying politicians to the disaster site in chartered helicopters, aid workers said after attending a first anniversary mass over the weekend.

The tsunamis, or tidal waves, hit a 30-kilometer (99-foot) stretch of the West Sepik region on July 17 last year, devastating the Aitape community.

Sparked by an undersea earthquake, they struck almost without warning, destroying several villages and wiping out families. Survivors said one of the tsunamis was 10 meters (33 feet) high.

Bishop Austen Crapp of the Catholic Diocese of Aitape, a relief coordinator, said villagers forced to resettle indefinitely in inland regions were showing signs of anemia because fish had been removed from their diets.

Domestic violence and alcohol-related crimes were also on the rise because so many lives had been disrupted, he said.

Aid workers are hoping that Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta will keep the previous government's promise.

Meanwhile, victims were still rebuilding their lives, an Australian aid worker said in Melbourne, Australia yesterday.

Community Aid Abroad (CAA) information officer Nicole Haslam said the tsunami left 10,000 persons displaced.

Ms. Haslam told AAP the area had always been disadvantaged by poverty.

"The infrastructure there was nearly non-existent because the place was so poor," she said.

"There was a very strong community life in this fishing village, and the tsunami affected everyone in some way.

"However, I saw signs of recovery and rehabilitation. I was amazed at how people had recovered and how they were managing to rebuild their lives," Ms. Haslam, who had just returned to Australia from the affected area, said.

She said after the tsunami, most of the people moved inland to resettlements.

"Since then, some people have moved back to their traditional lives," she said.

"Only in the last couple of months are people starting to go back to the coast."

She said the community was superstitious and had a number of explanations for the tsunami - including retribution.

"It is a very strong religious area and a lot of them thought they were being punished for something," she said.

CAA would continue rehabilitation work in the region as long as it is necessary, she said.

In the aftermath of the disaster, the organization provided aid to relieve water and sanitation problems.

Working with other aid agencies, it also helped build water tanks and wells for villagers who had to resettle.

CAA's PNG appeal has raised A$ 520,000 (US$ 337,116) so far.

Anyone wanting to donate to the organization’s long-term overseas aid program may call 1-800-088-110.

GOVERNOR TO SECURE MONEY FOR AITAPE

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (July 20, 1999 - Post-Courier)---Sandaun Governor John Tekwie has announced his government is working closely with the Australian Government for a $A 60 million (US$ 38.9 million) financial package to help rebuild the lives of survivors of the Aitape tsunami.

"We are 90 percent there,'' Mr. Tekwie said over the weekend.

Mr. Tekwie said he had to go to Australia to seek support to rebuild the Aitape area because his provincial government had been "sidelined'' by the National Government, which took full control of the relief and restoration services in the area after the tsunami which claimed over 2,000 lives and left thousands injured and homeless.

Mr. Tekwie was speaking at a special dinner hosted by the National Aitape Relief and Restoration Committee to express their gratitude and thanks to many corporate organizations, charity groups and individuals here and overseas who contributed towards the relief efforts to help the tsunami survivors.

At the dinner, the committee patron, Sir Anthony Siaguru, also announced the establishment of an orphans trust fund to cater for the educational needs of children left without parents by the tsunami.

Called the Aitape Tsunami Notal Orphans Trust, the group would continue to raise funds and pay some of the school fees of 132 students from primary school through to secondary and vocational and university levels.

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