'Phenomenal' influx of cash as British donations hit £45m

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The Independent Online

Money yesterday continued to pour into Britain's tsunami relief fund at an unprecedented rate as aid organisers warned that their greatest challenge was to ensure that it reached the victims of the devastation.

Money yesterday continued to pour into Britain's tsunami relief fund at an unprecedented rate as aid organisers warned that their greatest challenge was to ensure that it reached the victims of the devastation.

The amount raised by donations to the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) last night stood at £45m, almost doubling the previous total within 24 hours. By this morning, the total given by private individuals and companies in Britain is likely to have exceeded the £50m pledged by the Government, which last night announced that a three-minute silence would be held at noon next Wednesday in remembrance of the victims.

Organisers hailed the influx of cash, donated in more than 850,000 phone calls at a rate of up to £16,000 an hour, as "absolutely phenomenal". Among corporate donors were Marks & Spencer, which launched its own appeal with a donation of £250,000. The Nationwide building society boosted the Independent's appealin support of the DEC by donating £25,000.

But as aid groups promised that funds were being distributed almost instantly, they admitted that the loss of infrastructure in areas such as Indonesia's Aceh province was creating "bottlenecks" at airports.

Brendan Gormley, the chief executive of the DEC, a coalition of 12 UK charities, said: "The response of the British public has been absolutely phenomenal. The bigger challenge is the logistics, especially in Indonesia. You can't get a decent plane into the airport at Aceh."

Britain yesterday joined countries including the United States, Australia, Malaysia and India who have sent naval vessels to the region, announcing the dispatch of two Royal Navy ships, including HMS Chatham, which has helicopters on board to distribute aid. They will be joined by an RAF C-17 cargo plane. The British contingent is likely to be based in Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

But relief groups warned that destroyed facilities and lack of co-ordination meant that planeloads of aid were queuing to reach the disaster zone. Oxfam said last night that a transport plane carrying fresh water and medical supplies which left Britain on Wednesday had only just arrived in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo.

The British government, which tripled its donation on Thursday to £50m to become the largest contributing nation,, said it would arrange flights to ensure the money raised by the appeal reached its target.

Hilary Benn, the International Development Secretary, said: "We want to ensure that all the money generously donated by the British public is spent as far as possible on buying vital relief items. And not on the cost of transporting it."

The DEC said that all donations would be spent effectively through local aid groups. "We're not flying in shiny-faced people from London," Mr Gormley said. "They are nationals of the countries. They know the system, they know when they're being ripped off.

Aid agencies and the UN insisted that the distribution of water, food and medical supplies was beginning in earnest in some of the worst affected areas, in particular Sri Lanka.

But elsewhere, there were signs that aid was being misdirected. In the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, villages untouched by the tsunami were inundated with food, while survivors elsewhere waited for hours for a meal.

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