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06 January 2005

Leaders Meet on Tsunami Response; Pledges Pass $4 Billion

Coordination, debt relief, tsunami early warning system discussed

By Charlene Porter
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington – The greatest natural disaster in living memory and the resulting need for an unprecedented aid effort brought together leaders from 26 nations, U.N. agencies and nongovernmental organizations in Jakarta, Indonesia, January 6 with pledges to coordinate their activities to send relief into the affected nations. 

More than 150,000 died in the December 26, 2004, earthquake and tsunami.  More than 500,000 were injured, and international health officials warn that the post-disaster period could double the death toll from disease and infection if aid is not delivered swiftly. 

“Although we were powerless to stop the tsunami, together we do have the power to stop those next waves, said U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan as he urged a swift, coordinated response to prevent more deaths in the already suffering region.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell left the one-day session satisfied with the progress toward coordinating the massive humanitarian relief effort.

“I think that we were able to bring the international community together in a more effective way to coordinate our efforts and also to tee up the donors' conference that will be taking place on [January 11] in Geneva under U.N. auspices, Powell told the press after the meeting. 

The scope of the tragedy has prompted an outpouring of promises of assistances from rich countries and poor, with a total now exceeding $4 billion. Although some doubts have been expressed in the media as to whether all that money will ultimately be delivered, Powell said there is no doubt the United States will put forth the $350 million it has promised, and likely more.

“I can only speak for the United States and tell you that the United States – when it says $350 million -- it means $350 million, and when we say we’ll go for more if we need more, that’s what we’ll do, Powell told reporters.

In remarks delivered at the meeting, Powell detailed the prompt response of U.S. relief agencies with the delivery of thousands of tons of rice in the region, and water purification kits that will provide clean water to tens of thousands. The U.S. military also is directing significant resources to the area with 19 naval vessels and almost 100 aircraft working to deliver more than 450 tons of equipment, food, medicine and other supplies. 

Annan announced a $1 billion appeal for emergency aid and offered a detailed breakdown of anticipated needs. The greatest needs, according to the U.N. estimates, will be almost $230 million for food and agriculture and $222 million for shelter and non-urgent food items. 

The amounts the United Nations estimates for immediate needs are dwarfed by predictions made by affected nations on what it will cost to rebuild and reconstruct damaged areas.  Indonesia, the most severely stricken nation, calculates that it will spend between $1.5 and $2 billion to rebuild.  Sri Lanka predicts a slightly lower range, topping at $1.5 billion.  Maldives estimates reconstruction costs of $1.3 billion over several years.  Not all nations have yet calculated estimates for replacing what the sea destroyed.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) offered details on some of the long-range costs it foresees and described just how vast and sweeping was the tsunami’s impact – not just for the moments the waters surged ashore, but for years to come. 

“In addition to the human tragedy, fishers have lost their boats, fishing gear, support industries and aquaculture installations have been damaged or lost, said Fernanda Guerrieri, chief of FAO’s emergency operations service. “Farm animals have been killed and crops have been washed away or are dying due to saltwater floods.

The FAO seeks $26 million from the pledged aid to help farmers and fishers alone.

Along with pledges of assistance, debt relief is another way that other nations might help the region in its recovery from natural disaster.  Several donor nations have made proposals for debt forgiveness or deferral.  Japan proposed a debt moratorium in Jakarta, a period when debt payments might be frozen. 

Finance ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) nations are set to consider a variety of options for debt relief when they meet in February. The G7 nations include Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Great Britain and the United States.

Even though that issue was left unresolved as the Jakarta meeting adjourned, the attendees were resolute on another issue.  The conference reached agreement to proceed on establishing an early warning system for the Indian Ocean, which would provide time for evacuations of coastal areas if a killer tsunami ever should rise again.

The United States and other Pacific Ocean nations do operate such a system to predict the occurrence of tsunamis in the earthquake-prone region known as the Ring of Fire.  In a session with Thai officials January 4, Powell pledged that U.S. scientists and technicians would help Indian Ocean nations with such a project.

Difficult and sustained work clearly lies ahead for the nations affected in this disaster, and for those who will help them.  Even though hardship is far from over, Annan did note what the calamity has done to bring the world together.

“We have seen a response based not on our differences, but on what unites us.  We have seen an opportunity to heal old wounds and long-running conflicts, Annan said.

For additional information, go to “U.S. Response to Tsunami and Earthquake in Asia at:

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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