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04 January 2005

Tsunami Disaster Getting High-Level Attention Around the World

Powell, other international leaders fly in to observe aid effort

By Charlene Porter
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington – Expressing condolences and commitments for long-term U.S. assistance in the recovery effort, Secretary of State Colin Powell was in the tsunami-stricken zone of South Asia January 4.  An array of world leaders will join him in the region as the week unfolds, a high-level show of solidarity in what is being widely called the greatest humanitarian operation ever launched.

Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the brother of the U.S. president, accompanied Powell on the trip.  As chief executive of a state prone to suffer the fury of seasonal Atlantic hurricanes, Governor Bush has picked his way through disaster aftermath before and knows the assurances the victims need.

“On behalf of the President and First Lady of the United States, and on behalf of the people of our country, Governor Bush said, “we will be shoulder to shoulder with the leaders of this region and the people of this region to provide support not only for the relief and for the recovery, but on a long-term basis.

Florida’s governor spoke at a disaster relief center in Phuket, Thailand, January 4.  He, Secretary Powell and Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai also gave a press briefing in Bangkok where Sathirathai expressed a need for long-term U.S. assistance in developing a tsunami early warning system in the Indian Ocean which might help to prevent such widespread devastation in the future. 

“We will examine some of the areas that we discussed this morning that the minister has touched on, Powell said, “such as an early warning system and such as environmental expertise that we have that might be of assistance to the Thai government and other governments in the region to make sure than any environmental damage that has been cause can be repaired or at least mitigated.

In Washington, tsunami disaster relief was high on the agenda at the January 4 convening session of the 109th U.S. Congress with messages of condolences and support to the survivors set for swift passage.  In the longer term, the Congress will also be looking to boost U.S. disaster relief funds, which will need to be replenished after the outlay of $350 million committed by the U.S. government so far.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Republican from Tennessee, announced that he will travel to the disaster zone January 5 to observe U.S. relief activities in person.  A physician as well as a politician, Frist is also reportedly interested in assessing the health risks among displaced populations.

That is a major concern also attracting the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) to the region. Director-General Lee Jong-wook arrived in Indonesia January 3 and will be traveling to some of the most battered areas over the next few days, according to a WHO press release. 

WHO estimated December 30, 2004, that between 3 and 5 million people in the region are vulnerable to disease because of the lack of clean water, sanitation, food and medical care.  The U.N. health agency cites the provision of clean water as the top health priority right now in order to protect survivors from exposure to diarrheal diseases, dysentery and typhoid through consumption of contaminated water.

Later in the week, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan will also be traveling to Indonesia to attend a high-level meeting where disaster recovery, aid, and long-term reconstruction will be discussed.  Powell is also set to attend, along with Japanese and Chinese leaders. 

The United Nations now puts the commitment of aid from governments around the world at between $2 and $3 billion.  Estimates of the number of dead approached 150,000 on January 4.

For additional information go to U.S. Response to Tsunami and Earthquake in Asia at: http://usinfo.state.gov/sa/south_asia/tsunamis.html

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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