Richard North, 12/01/2005  

US military relief efforts continue apace in the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster zone. Water-production facilities have been established in Indonesia in coordination with host government officials and five C-130 Hercules have arrived at Banda Aceh with an Air Force mobility support team to organize an airport ramp area

The US Navy pre-positioning ship MV Pless, with the capability to offload fresh water, arrived off the coast of Sumatra. The USS Duluth also arrived in the area and was ferrying supplies to shore via amphibious landing craft.

Teams had begun clearing debris from affected areas in Sri Lanka. At least 150 tons of debris was cleared from the roads. Some debris was deposited to reconstruct the sea wall and some was taken to a Sri Lankan landfill.

Pulau Simeule, a small island about 60 miles off the coast of Indonesia, was getting new attention. Sailors on the USS Bonhomme Richard were delivering supplies to the 1,000-person island.

In all, 850 sorties have been flown since the beginning of operations, moving 46,000 gallons of fresh water, 4,009 pounds of food and 775,000 pounds of supplies. Additionally, 153 injured people have been moved.

Meanwhile the big-wigs were in Geneva holding yet another donors' conference, with Jan Egeland, the UN humanitarian relief coordinator, boasting that the UN had secured "concrete aid" of $717 million dollars toward its emergency relief appeal.

The other half of the tranzi team, EU president José Manuel Barroso, was in Strasbourg, but while the US military were delivering, all he could do was promise "swift delivery" of the up to €450 million his commission had pledged in aid. Without a trace of embarrassment, he then went on to claim that: "the European Union already exceeds any other single donor in terms of total aid pledged."

According to a commission press release, his commission also agreed a package of measures related "to providing continued relief in disaster affected area".

One of those measures, however, was to beef up the EU's "civil protection assistance" which, incredibly, according to another press release, "worked smoothly" in the tsunami crisis. "The investment made in recent years in training/exercises and in developing co-ordination procedures helped ensure an effective mobilisation and allowed a clear expression of EU solidarity," it claims.

In terms of "concrete achievements" readers will be pleased to learn that the commission is also working on improving its "Civil Protection Mechanism", which was first established in 2001 to "facilitate the mobilisation of support and assistance from Member States in the event of major emergencies." DG Environment "has just completed a first scenario-based inventory which has identified a number of gaps."

But the biggest gap that needs plugging is in the lack of a visible EU presence. This remains very dear to the heart of the EU, as set out in its communication of last year (COM (2004) 200 final) which sets out the key priorities.

"The EU", this document says, "should be able to respond effectively as a Union to calls for assistance from third countries and have a visible, distinctive EU presence on the ground, complementing other Community policies."

To that effect, it proposes to provide "EU co-ordinated rescue teams with common insignia and equipment in order to allow for easy identification on site of members of EU co-ordinated teams as part of an ad hoc European Civil Protection Force drawn from existing national units".

That is what it is really all about: "visibility". These people are shameless.

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