U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says he expects international contributions to countries hit by the earthquake and tsunami disaster to be in the billions of dollars. Mr. Powell, in morning TV interviews Tuesday, rejected a UN official's comment that the response of the United States and other Western nations thus far has been "stingy."
The U.S. commitment to relief efforts from the earthquake and tidal wave disaster thus far is about $15 million. But officials here say U.S. pledges will increase sharply, and rapidly, as the extent of damage and appeals from hard-hit countries are examined.
They are bristling over a remark Monday by U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland that the United States and other wealthy nations are being "stingy" with relief funds.
Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed the issue in an unusual set of appearances on five TV network morning programs Tuesday.
He said far from being stingy, the United States is the world's single-greatest contributor to international disaster relief, anti-AIDS and food programs, and that tsunami assistance pledges announced thus far are just a starting point.
Mr. Powell told the NBC Today program he has contacted every one of his foreign minister colleagues from affected countries and told them to inform local U.S. embassies what their assistance needs will be. He said he expects the combined response from the United States and other major donor states to ultimately be in the billions of dollars.
"We'll have to wait and see what the needs actually are,” said Mr. Powell. “But clearly the United States will be a major contributor to this international effort. And yes, it will run into the billions of dollars. Villages have been wiped out, schools wiped out, but it will take a while to make sure we have a good understanding of what the needs are."
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has sent more than 20 disaster experts to stricken countries to assess their needs. The U.S. military's Pacific Command is also responding, dispatching nine patrol planes to the region to assist in search and rescue operations. Twelve U.S. military cargo planes have been sent to transport relief supplies.
The earthquake and tidal waves struck as thousands of American and other tourists were spending year-end holidays at resorts around the Indian Ocean. Secretary Powell said hundreds of U.S. citizens remain unaccounted for, though they are not necessarily among the casualties. He said there are 11 confirmed American deaths and that a number of others are being treated for injuries.