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US Foreign Aid Chief Leads US Delegation at Tsunami Conference

The head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Andrew Natsios, flew to Geneva late Monday to represent the United States at a two-day international conference opening Tuesday on the Asian earthquake and Tsunami disaster. The meeting brings together some 80 countries, including 12 nations directly affected by the disaster, and aid donors.

Mr. Natsios left for the Geneva meeting little more than 12 hours after arriving back from a tour of the affected region and Kenya with Secretary of State Colin Powell.

In a talk with reporters, he discouraged the depiction of the Geneva meeting as a donors' conference, given that countries around the world have already pledged some four billion dollars in response to international appeals.

He said the focus of the meeting, instead, should be on developing a coordinated approach for delivering the aid, and preparing a long-term recovery plan.

"I don't think there are going to be many more pledges. There could be. I don't know. You never know what people are going to say. They go to a conference, they can give whatever talk they want to. But we need to focus our efforts on coordination, on the logistical systems, and on rapidly moving into the rehabilitation and reconstruction phases," he said.

Mr. Natsios said part of the longer-term effort should involve mental health treatment and counseling for a population he said has been severely traumatized after witnessing large-scale death and destruction:

"Many of the people have lost most of their extended families, their neighborhoods, all their friends, schools that the children would go to. All their businesses, livelihoods, jobs are all lost. And so people are going into shock, some of them, psychologically. And you can't see it from a distance. But when you talk to them you realize they're not entirely aware of what's happening to them," he said.

Mr. Natsios said it is important that tsunami relief donations by private Americans be in addition to, and not in place of, contributions that otherwise would have gone to organizations and charities working in the developing world.

The aid agency chief, who joined Secretary Powell in weekend meetings with Sudanese officials in Kenya, said he did not want the tsunami relief response to damage aid efforts in Sudan's western Darfur region and other areas affected by war and hunger.