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World Bank Chief Says it May Take Weeks for Tsunami Reconstruction Assessment

World Bank President James Wolfensohn says it will take several weeks to assess the reconstruction needs stemming from the December 26 tsunami in southern Asia. Mr. Wolfensohn spoke to reporters Wednesday following his return from an inspection visit to the hardest hit countries.

Mr. Wolfensohn says the needs assessment process is under way and that some preliminary results will be known within a few weeks. While the United Nations is in charge of the immediate relief effort, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank will coordinate reconstruction. So far donors have pledged about five billion dollars of assistance.

Mr. Wolfensohn stresses the need for transparency in the disbursement of aid money and says it is too early to say how much money will be needed for reconstruction.

"I think it is important that we are not driven by the numbers but that we start with the issue of what is the demand, what are the real needs and what is the phasing of the needs," he says.

The World Bank is conducting an assessment of the needs of the hardest hit countries, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, where up to five million people have been displaced. Mr. Wolfensohn says the scale of destruction is overwhelming.

"I come back really somewhat humbled by the power of nature and very conscious of the fact that as we go forward we need to support the governments [in the region]," Mr. Wolfensohn says. "We need programs that will really deal with the issue of not replicating slums, but dealing with problem of poverty."

Mr. Wolfensohn says the poorest people are most affected by the disaster.

February 4 finance ministers from the richest countries will meet in London to consider debt relief for Indonesia and Sri Lanka.