The mechanics of mercy: how cash is turned into aid for the stricken

Click to follow
The Independent Online

And now the cash is becoming aid. As donations continue to pour in for the victims of the tsunami disaster, the emergency help that the money will buy is actually on its way.

Yesterday, the UK charity Save the Children dispatched a plane carrying nearly 40 tonnes of supplies for 37,000 distressed families in Sri Lanka. Flight UAB 102 took off from Stansted airport in Essex and will be unloading at Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital, this morning, to be distributed among communities down the ravaged east coast of the island.

Top of the cargo list put together by Save the Children's emergency supplies manager, Adrian Uden, were tarpaulins for shelter. Flight 102 was carrying 10,000 heavy-duty reinforced plastic tarpaulins that can be used as ad-hoc roofs or as groundsheets; they cost £76,000. With them went 1,000 duvet covers offered free by the furnishing chain Ikea, which will be used as sheets.

Bearing in mind its special responsibility to the disaster's youngest victims, the charity sent six large tents to be used as rest and play areas for some of the many thousands of children hit by the disaster.

After shelter, the priority was clean water, and the next most important item on the flight was a consignment of 24 cartons of water purification tablets, enough to supply the 37,000 families the charity is helping for a week.

Then came essentials to allow Save the Children staff to operate in areas where public services have been widely knocked out: three small portable electricity generators and four satellite phones.

After that was perhaps the most moving item: a "family finder kit", consisting of simple but essential equipment for reuniting separated parents and children, including polaroid cameras, wrist ID bracelets and two megaphones to make announcements to crowds.

Finally there was a box of stickers, flags, tape and T-shirts all bearing the Save the Children logo, to help with staff identification.

The cost of everything came to just under £112,000.

To get this all to Sri Lanka involved three stages: finding out what was needed, where it could be sourced, and how it could all be dispatched. In this case, it was the last stage that came first, because as soon as Save the Children's emergencies director, Toby Porter, saw the first news of the disaster on Boxing Day morning, he sensed a relief plane would be needed and asked Mr Uden to charter a flight.

UAB 102, a DC8 jetliner owned by United Arab Airlines, based in Sudan and flown by an American crew, was booked that day. (The cost of $160,000, or £84,000, was paid by the British Government.)

That night, agency staff flew out to assess local needs on the ground; they reported on Wednesday; on Thursday and Friday the supplies were sourced; and as you read this today they will at last be on their way to the devastated towns and villages along the east coast, including Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Matara, Galle, Jaffna, Ampara and Vanni, where suffering people are desperate for relief.



One of the biggest priorities in a disaster area where many people have lost their homes is shelter. Flight 102 is carrying 10,000 heavy-duty, plastic-coated tarpaulins. They are big - four metres by six metres - and can be used equally as ground cover or as roofing. Total cost: £76,000


Another essential is sheeting on which people can sleep. Save The Children was looking for actual sheets, but the offer of 1,000 duvet covers from the furniture chain Ikea was thought too good to refuse and they will serve the same purpose. Total cost: free


Pursuing its special mission in a disaster where young people have been hit hard, Save The Children is sending out six multi-purpose tents - weighing half a tonne each - which can be used as children's rest or play areas. Total cost: £20,600


A key item is a consignment of 1.2 million water purification tablets - 24 boxes of 50,000 tablets each. Each tablet will purify 2.5 litres of water and the supply is enough to provide clean drinking water for a week to the 37,000 families to which Save The Children is distributing aid. Total cost: £6,400


Three diesel-powered generators are being sent to cater for small-scale power needs, such as powering a bank of lights, computers or a fridge. They are Yanmar 5KVA single-phase diesel generating sets (plus fast moving filter spares). Total cost: £6,000


The charity is supplying its staff with satellite phones to help them co-ordinate relief in areas where communications have been destroyed: three Thuraya satellite hand-held phones with vehicle chargers. Total cost: £1,200


Polaroid cameras for pictures of those who have lost relatives, noticeboards, wrist identification tags and megaphones.

Total cost: £550

SAVE THE CHILDREN LOGOS To help identify relief workers: 50 large vehicle stickers, 50 small vehicle stickers, 10 large flags, 10 small flags, 30 rolls of tape, 50 T-shirts. Total cost: £750


One brand new Toyota Land Cruiser, the workhorse of many of the aid agencies. It was left behind because the Sri Lankan customs authorities insisted on charging 200 per cent import duty.


1: At 7.30am on Boxing Day, Save the Children's emergencies director, Toby Porter, alerts his supplies manager, Adrian Uden, with a text. At 8.30am he calls to ask him to charter a flight.

2: At lunchtime Mr Uden contacts air charter agents Chapman Freeborn. The agency says he can have a DC8 to fly to Colombo on Saturday. He accepts.

3: On Wednesday Save the Children staff who have flown to Sri Lanka to assess needs report back. Mr Uden buys the supplies over the next three days, for £112,000.

4: On Saturday and Sunday the 40 tons of supplies are loaded into the DC8 at Stansted airport. At 8.45am yesterday the plane and its crew head for Sri Lanka.

5: This morning, Laura Conrad of Save The Children is to meet Flight 102 when it lands in Colombo. She will have the supplies unloaded and moved swiftly to the ravaged areas.