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Former US Presidents Appeal for Continuing Aid for Tsunami Victims

Former Presidents Clinton and George H.W. Bush are urging the world to keep up interest in recovery and rehabilitation efforts following December's massive tsunami that hit Southeast Asia the hardest. Meanwhile, officials say they are taking precautions to ensure that the unprecedented amount of contributions following the natural disaster will not be lost to corruption.

Shortly after the tsunami disaster, President Bush named his father, George H.W. Bush and his predecessor, Bill Clinton, to lead U.S. efforts for private contributions. To date, American companies have donated more than $500 million in cash and material contributions.

Former President Bush said this is less than half of the total private contributions from Americans, a number he describes as "staggering."

"Some are estimating these kinds of private donations, nationwide, exceed $1.2 billion."

Former President said the donations already have had positive concrete results, including helping to avert widespread shortages of food and outbreaks of diseases in the affected areas.

He spoke at a meeting in Washington sponsored by several groups, including the Asia Society and the Asia Foundation. The gathering brought together officials from the region to discuss the current state of post-tsunami recovery and rehabilitation efforts.

Former President Clinton said the time between now and the end of the year will be crucial for tsunami survivors.

"This is the hardest period, because it's out of the newspapers," he explained. "All the dead who could be found have been buried. People have got to put their lives back together. And the monsoon season is coming, and there are still some people in tents, thousands of them."

Also at the meeting, United Nations Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, acknowledged that the reconstruction efforts have been slow. But he added that international organizations working in the tsunami-affected areas are trying to ensure transparency and accountability.

"Because what we cannot afford is scandals, any kind of scandals, and that money goes in the wrong direction or into the wrong pockets, because we have such an unprecedented generosity and also, such unprecedented needs to be filled," he noted.

The issue of corruption on the ground was addressed by Indonesia's National Development Planning Minister Mulyani Indrawati.

"I think we are very aware that for this rehabilitation and reconstruction, the reputation of this implementing agency is at stake and we are fully committed to implement all this rehabilitation and reconstruction activity with a high standard of governance, transparency and accountability," she noted.

Ms. Mulyani said some measures her government is implementing include independent supervisory boards to oversee aid distribution, a private sector liaison office and a website that will provide public information on various government projects.