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Australia Triples Aid to Tsunami Victims; Global Relief Effort Picks Up Pace


Australia's more than tripled its emergency aid to Asian countries hit by Sunday's tsunami disaster. Canberra is working with the United States, Japan and other countries to coordinate the massive relief effort in the Indian Ocean.

Australia has promised an additional $20 million U.S. for disaster-hit areas, on top of an earlier pledge of $7 million. Most of the extra money will go to Indonesia and Sri Lanka - the countries hardest hit by Sunday's earthquake and tidal waves.

Four Australian air force transport planes have begun to ferry equipment and personnel to the Indonesian province of Aceh.

Officials say it is likely that Canberra will spend "considerably more" over the coming weeks and months as the full extent of the tragedy emerges.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Wednesday that as a wealthy and prosperous country, Australia has "special responsibilities" to its near neighbors to the north.

Mr. Downer said the task is immense but that Australia's aid agencies are up to the task.

"You have tens of thousands of people who have been killed," he said. "This is a catastrophic situation and obviously in those circumstances, I think our officials, our consular officials, the defense force and so on are doing a wonderful job."

Already, more than $100 million in emergency aid has been pledged by dozens of countries. Australia, the United States, Japan and the European Union are the biggest donors.

Dozens of countries have begun flying planes loaded with food, medical supplies, blankets and even body bags to Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia. Those same planes are then ferrying out of thousands of Western tourists caught in the disaster zones.

Canberra has announced early plans for a joint initiative with the U.S, India and Japan to coordinate relief efforts and to map out long-term rebuilding and investment.

Adam Ereli, a U.S. State Department spokesman, said Tuesday in Washington that major donor nations are only at the beginning of a long-term rebuilding effort.

"We'll be continuing to look at the situation and, based on our assessment, responding to what we believe the needs are," he said. "The clear message, however, is that we're committed to helping."

The United Nations has estimated that it will take billions of dollars over several years to rebuild areas devastated by the tidal waves.

Part of that long-term recovery effort could include the development of a tsunami warning system for the Indian Ocean region. Australia already has pledged to lead an effort to create such a system.