Examiner readers responded magnificently to the appeal in aid of victims of the Asian tsunami. You raised in the region of £50,000 for the appeal we ran jointly with Unicef. Ninety days on from the disaster, Unicef ambassador Martin Bell - a former TV reporter and independent MP - gives his views on the progress made.

THE first message from Unicef is simple: Thank you, thank you and thank you again.

Just as there hadn't been such a catastrophe as the tsunami in the history of the United Nations Children's Fund - or for that matter, in most of the countries affected - so the response to it was also unprecedented.

The tidal wave of giving has been most heart-warming, as much from private individuals as from great companies and corporations.

Unicef UK's appeal raised a record £13m, with more than £3m of that coming from the campaigns of 48 regional newspapers.

Much of this money was spent immediately, to meet the urgent need of the survivors for food, shelter, sanitation and healthcare.

Indeed, in the early days Unicef UK signed a cheque for money that, if it wasn't yet actually in the bank, was known to be on the way.

The speed of the response helped to save lives that, in the early days, were still at risk.

That was one advantage of Unicef's worldwide presence - already having an established presence in all the affected countries.

The organisation put great emphasis on getting the children back to school as quickly as possible, not just for the sake of their education, but to restore routine and normality to shattered lives.

That was no easy task in countries like Indonesia and Sri Lanka, where so many schools had been destroyed or pressed into service as emergency shelters.

It was an emergency that brought out the heroism in many people, including those victims who showed great patience and endurance in the direst circumstances and shared their meagre resources to help each other.

The heroes and heroines also included, in my experience, the local and international staff of Unicef, who worked without a break for weeks on end.

According to the best estimates available, the tsunami is now known to have killed 280,000 people and made 1.2m homeless.

The figures aren't final. Some 94,470 people are still missing in Indonesia and 4,698 in Sri Lanka.

The long term needs of the affected countries are still being assessed.

But thanks to the extraordinary outpouring of generosity in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, the cash is there to meet the victims' short and medium-term needs.

This is a time for gratitude, but certainly not complacency.

It is perhaps worth adding that the tsunami is only one of a number of humanitarian emergencies that the aid agencies are striving to deal with.

The needs of more than 1m refugees in the Darfur region of Sudan are not any the less because of the tidal wave.

From Thailand to India and from Somalia to the Maldives, the relief phase is over and the reconstruction phase has now begun.

In fishing communities especially, many thousands of people have lost their livelihoods. The tourist industry, where not wrecked, is badly damaged.

There are roads, bridges and villages to be rebuilt, not necessarily in their original places. The Sri Lankan government, for one, has said there must be a retreat to safer ground.

Unicef's special responsibility, of course, is to the young, who are especially vulnerable at such a time.

Nearly all the affected children are now back at school, aided by school- in-a-box kits. In Indonesia there were enough for 234,400 pupils.

Schools have been repaired and re-equipped and, where they were destroyed, they are being rebuilt, on a strategy of ``build back better".

If all goes to plan, the seaside communities affected by the disaster will end up with better schools and health care than they had before the tsunami engulfed them in December.

Also on the credit side - and largely thanks to Unicef - was what didn't happen.

Steps were taken immediately, including providing fresh water, to prevent serious outbreaks of disease, which would have worsened the tragedy.

Nor were there any reports of significant child trafficking, despite the presence of so many vulnerable and separated children, in countries like Sri Lanka, where it had been an issue.

In Sri Lanka an estimated 1,000 children are being cared for by extended families. Also, 3,700 children lost one parent.

The successful tracing of parents and relatives, often in circumstances of the utmost difficulty, greatly reduced the number of children at risk.

The long-term challenge is more than rebuilding homes and schools. It is the rebuilding of the lives of so many traumatised children.

In its latest update, Unicef reports: "A special focus will be providing support for long-term trauma recovery for children. We're looking at a gigantic recovery effort. It's going to take a very long time."

But what a start has been made! Once again, we at Unicef can never thank you enough. Your generosity has been put to good use.