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UN Official Praises Wealthy Nations for Disaster Funds

A senior U.N. official has backed away from earlier comments that wealthy nations had been "stingy" in responding to humanitarian aid appeals.

U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland says rich countries have responded generously to requests to help victims of the earthquake and tsunami that swept from South Asia to Africa.

His comments came a day after he appeared to criticize the United States and European countries for what he called being "stingy" with aid contributions.

When U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was asked about the comment during a cable television news interview Tuesday, he stated flatly, "We are not stingy."  He noted that the United States is the world's single largest contributor to international disaster relief, as well as to anti-AIDS and food aid programs.

Mr. Egeland, a Norwegian, told reporters Tuesday that his comments had been misinterpreted.

He has spoken in the past about the donor fatigue many rich countries feel as they receive more and more requests for development aid. He said those comments have nothing to do with the response to this latest emergency.

"The response has so far been overwhelmingly positive,” he said.  “And the pledges we've had today have been most generous. I've been in contact with a number of donors, European donors, I've been in contact with several friends in the U.S. administration in Washington, and they have pledged very important, substantive support, for which we are very grateful."

Secretary of State Powell Monday pledged an initial $15 million in U.S. aid, plus logistical support for assistance efforts. A White House spokesman Tuesday said the U.S. Agency for International Development would give another $20 million, and more would be coming as assessment needs are made.

The United Nations has not yet calculated the amount it will request in its overall earthquake-tsunami aid appeal, but officials say many billions of dollars will be needed to rebuild shattered economies.

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