COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Bureaucratic bungling has blocked food, medicine and other necessities from reaching 70 percent of the 1 million Sri Lankans left destitute by the Asian tsunami (search) disaster, a government official said Wednesday, as hungry and homeless survivors protested the lack of help.
Thilak Ranavirajah, chief of Sri Lanka's presidential task force coordinating relief, said the situation was "not satisfactory" and President Chandrika Kumaratunga (search) "directed me to see that all families, or at least 70 percent to 75 percent of them, get relief by this weekend."
The Dec. 26 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami killed more than 30,000 in Sri Lanka (search), while another 960,000 people lost family members or their homes. Ranavirajah's figures excluded areas in the north and east under the control of Tamil Tiger (search) rebels.
Hundreds of people protested outside the U.N. World Food Program office Wednesday in Colombo, complaining they had not received food rations. Demonstrators from the southern coastal town of Matara submitted a petition seeking U.N. intervention.
This was not the first sign of trouble with Sri Lanka's aid effort. On Tuesday, the government began investigating complaints that food aid intended for tsunami victims in eastern Batticaloa had disappeared and some of the homeless living in camps were being fed rotten supplies.
The WFP said it had donated some 10,000 tons of rice, lentils and sugar and had delivered the supplies to government stores island-wide.
"Food has already been sent. We can't understand why the people aren't getting it," WFP spokeswoman Selvi Sachithanandam said.
The World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and Japan's Bank for International Cooperation said Sri Lanka would need $1.5 billion to recover from the disaster. The government had estimated it needed $3.5 billion.
The cumulative death toll from 11 nations stood at between 158,000 and 178,000 Wednesday, with estimates of another 142,000 people missing.
The disaster has left many residents of the region jittery. A moderate earthquake of magnitude 5.2 Wednesday caused panic among residents and cracked some buildings on Indonesia's main island of Java. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
In a case that has captured the attention of Sri Lanka and the world, a judge ruled Wednesday that a couple must undergo a DNA test to prove they are the parents of the 4-month-old tsunami survivor known as "Baby 81," because he was the 81st admission to the hospital here on Dec. 26.
The couple, upset at the ruling, burst into the hospital where the baby was being held and pleaded with doctors to release the infant. They were arrested for assault and criminal trespassing but later were released on bail.
World leaders are trying to further coordinate the global aid effort, with former President Clinton appointed Tuesday to take over as the U.N. point man for post-tsunami reconstruction.
"President Clinton will bring energy, dynamism and focus to the task of sustaining world interest in the vital recovery and reconstruction phase," a U.N. statement said.
Also Wednesday, Australian Prime Minister John Howard became the second foreign leader to visit Indonesia's battered Aceh region on the northern tip of Sumatra island. He surveyed damage by helicopter, visited a field hospital to meet Australian aid workers and discussed Australian-funded relief efforts with Indonesian officials.
"Nothing I have seen on television could capture the extent of the devastation," Howard said after flying over the coast.