BANDA ACEH, Indonesia -- The throngs of destitute survivors needing food aid in tsunami- devastated Aceh Province are expected to soar to nearly 800,000, a high-ranking UN official said yesterday.
Signaling the enduring deprivation more than a month after the Dec. 26 disaster, the number of survivors being fed by the World Food Program in Aceh -- now at 340,000 -- will skyrocket as isolated villages are reached and the economic effects of the disaster take root, WFP Aceh chief Claude Jibidar said.
"We are talking around 790,000 people" who will need food assistance, Jibidar said. The WFP is running the biggest of the various relief operations in Aceh, on the northern tip of Sumatra island.
Many will face hunger because they cannot sell cash crops because of disrupted trade networks or because their food stocks have been shared with refugees.
But malnutrition is not expected to explode, Jibidar said, expressing confidence that supplies to the province would be sufficient. A UN report last week said malnutrition affected one in eight children in Aceh.
The tsunami death toll ranged from 156,000 to 178,000 across 11 nations, with an estimated 26,500 to 142,000 missing, most of whom are presumed dead. The varying estimates reflect figures released by separate agencies in Indonesia and Sri Lanka.
Indonesia's National Disaster Relief Coordinating Board said yesterday the country's death toll rose by 5,085 -- from 103,025 to 108,238 -- because more bodies were found and buried. The agency announced a similar increase Sunday. The Health Ministry was expected to update its numbers in line with those of the disaster relief board.
A third Indonesian agency has a higher death count, 123,198.
In Phuket, Thailand, tourism officials from around the world opened a two-day conference sponsored by the UN to discuss ways to revive their industry.
Conferees were expected to target four tsunami-damaged areas -- Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Thailand, and Indonesia -- for help in rebuilding tourism, according to a draft of the Phuket Action Plan, a joint statement expected to be approved today.
"Our aim is to ensure that the tourism sector in these four countries emerges from this disaster stronger and more resilient than before," it said.
The tsunami's economic effects were clear in Phuket, where hotels normally full of tourists this time of year are deserted. Reconstruction work has proceeded rapidly, but agencies and hoteliers worry that it will take years to restore the area's reputation for fun and sun.
The revival plan calls for campaigns on the safety of tourist sites, and for financial assistance for smaller businesses such as restaurants and handicraft makers.
It also outlines ideas for an international marketing campaign to ease fears among potential visitors about disease and other perceived dangers.
Meanwhile, relief workers in the disaster's hardest-hit areas are struggling with the region's shattered infrastructure.
For food aid workers, the biggest challenge in Aceh was making deliveries to western towns and villages that were inaccessible by land because the tsunami ruined Sumatra's main coastal road. It washed out some areas and destroyed many bridges.
The WFP is setting up a long-term food distribution system along the worst-affected west coast program spokeswoman Heather Hill said.