Denmark – Since the first reports that a tsunami struck southern Asia on Dec. 26, the vast supply warehouse maintained by UNICEF here has been working virtually night and day to ship needed supplies to the region.
‘I have worked up to 14 hours a day, nonstop since Dec. 27,’ Omar Rijal said Tuesday as he took a break from the packing line where school-in-a-box kits were being prepared for shipment to Indonesia. ‘It feels very good that I can do something to contribute.’
Rijal, a 43-year-old from Zanzibar, Tanzania, was at the warehouse on Dec. 26 when he heard the first radio reports of the devastating tsunami.
‘I knew it meant work,’ he said.
As he spoke, forklifts buzzed up and down the concrete passageways between 8-meter-high (26-foot-high) storage racks, nimbly removing boxes containing everything from feeding tubes for hospital patients and prefabricated sewage pipes to foldable water tanks, and even teddy bears.
The contents are packed into new boxes along a conveyor-belt assembly line, loaded into trucks and taken to Copenhagen’s airport for the from where they’re flown to southern Asia on commercial or military cargo planes. UNICEF officials in the disaster region alerted the facility in Denmark in the hours after the tsunami struck, killing more than 150,000 people and leaving 5 million homeless in Asia and Africa.
By Dec. 27, the warehouse was moving at full speed, with office staffers and administrators pitching in. Dhammika Dharmatileke of Sri Lanka, whose job is to buy vehicles locally to transport the supplies, finished some paperwork and then helped pack boxes.
‘Packing helped me take my mind off the pain,’ said Dharmatileke, who lost several friends and distant relatives in the tsunami. ‘I knew that some of the boxes were going to Sri Lanka and I could picture the children opening the boxes.’
Since Dec. 27, eight cargo planes – with 3,000 portable toilets, 60 large tents, 250,000 packets of rehydration salts, thousands of buckets, bars of soap and water purification tablets, have been sent to southern Asia. The planes also ferried health supplies for 400,000 people.
‘And we’re going to be busy with this for quite some time, at least six months,’ said Sandie Blanchet, UNICEF Supply Division’s spokeswoman.
The Supply Division, with 230 workers from 50 countries, will continue coordinating and sending vaccines, medicines, water and sanitation, rehydration salts and kits for children from the Copenhagen warehouse -the largest such U.N. facility – and other stockpile centers around the world.
Emergency aid can reach hot spots within 48 hours from the Copenhagen warehouse, established in 1962. Typically, it’s sent by ship, but planes are used in emergencies.
The 25,000-square-meter (270,000-square-foot) storehouse, which has its own loading port, has specialized in developing and shipping more than 30 different prepackaged kits.
‘We’re ready to tackle volcanoes, earthquakes, civil unrest and wars,’ Blanchet said. Emergencies only represent up to 20 percent of their activities. The rest is long-term development programs.