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Tsunami Aid Donations Grow Ahead of Jakarta Meeting

  • Michael Bowman

International aid commitments continue to grow ahead of Thursday's emergency donors summit in the Indonesian capital.

Australia announced the largest pledge by any nation to date: $764 million for tsunami victims in Asia. Australian officials say the funds will be split between both short-term and long-term projects in the region. Speaking with reporters shortly before departing for Jakarta, Australian Prime Minister John Howard said financial resources are essential, but that money alone will not save lives.

"It's fair to say the world has responded with remarkable generosity. The important thing now is to make sure that there is the minimum of distributive gridlock and that the aid gets through as quickly as possible."

Australia's aid announcement coincided with another from Germany. Speaking in Berlin, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said Germany will provide $674 million over the next three to five years.

Mr. Schroeder said that the entire German nation shows solidarity with the people in the region touched by the Tsunami. He added that he is proud of the high level of help the Germans are willing to offer.

At least 60 Germans died in the disaster and another 1,000 remain missing. Overall, the death toll stands at nearly 150,000. Thousands are still missing, many of them tourists from around the world.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell visited the devastated Indonesian town of Banda Aceh Wednesday. After surveying the region by air, Mr. Powell, a retired U.S. general, said he had never seen such destruction in wartime or from any other natural disaster. He promised a boost in American assistance.

"We will be increasing the number of helicopters that will be available to support Indonesian authorities. And we will respond to requests we get from Indonesian authorities for shelter materials and food," said Mr. Powell.

The United States has already pledged $350 million. The worldwide total has now climbed to more than $3 billion. The United States has established a leading military presence in the disaster zone to deliver emergency supplies to disparate communities and undertake other tasks. The United States has committed 13,000 military personnel to the effort, along with more than a dozen ships and hundreds of aircraft, including nearly 100 helicopters. Pentagon officials say even more equipment, vessels and resources are on the way.

For authorities in affected zones, those resources cannot arrive soon enough. Speaking with reporters near Banda Aceh, Indonesian Brigadier General Djunaidi Djahri said more supplies are needed, and that the aid distribution network has to be strengthened.

The general said, "We really need tents because 99 percent of the village has been wiped out and 32,000 refugees are homeless."

Among those attending the Jakarta conference is United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. Mr. Annan has praised the rapidly-growing pool of funds for disaster relief, but expressed the hope that the tsunami aid effort will not siphon funds from other worthy initiatives elsewhere in the world.

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