A senior official of the U.S. aid agency who is helping coordinate relief efforts in the tsunami region says his organization has begun to spend some money on economic recovery efforts, even as relief organizations continue to work on the basic issues of food, water and shelter for the survivors.
The senior U.S. aid official at the coordination center in Utapao, Thailand told reporters here by telephone Friday that the international tsunami relief effort has moved into what he calls a "convalescent" stage, caring for the survivors' medium- and long-term needs. And the official, Tom Fry, said that is beginning to have an economic component.
"We've already funded some micro-enterprise type activities in some of these countries," he said.
Micro-enterprises are small businesses such as grocery stores and delivery or repair services, and can also include fishermen and farmers. Mr. Fry says although as many as two million people are homeless, international agencies and organizations need to already go beyond providing for their basic needs.
"The victims of this disaster can be cared for for their injuries, they can be fed, [given] water and temporarily housed, and maybe then you can start to build their homes back, but unless you can get them back doing their livelihoods -- whether they're fishermen, farmers or whatever -- that's one of the key factors,” he added. “And some of the initial activities that we're starting are to help get those economies going that have been injured, maybe not destroyed but certainly injured, by this disaster."
Mr. Fry says that includes providing jobs for some disaster victims, who can actually help in the relief effort.
The U.S. aid official says the United States has already spent $92 million of the $350 million of tsunami relief aid that President Bush has promised. That is in addition to the cost of the ongoing U.S. military relief effort, which now involves more than 15,000 troops, most of them on the 25 U.S. navy ships that have moved to the area.
Mr. Fry says he has heard of no problems resulting from new rules, put into place by the Indonesian government, requiring foreign relief workers to get internal travel plans approved in advance and to have Indonesian military escorts in some situations.
On his way to the area Thursday, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz told reporters he is not concerned about the late March deadline set by Indonesia's vice-president for the departure of foreign forces that have been allowed into the country to help with tsunami relief. Mr. Wolfowitz said he expects the military part of the operation to be finished well before the deadline.
The deputy secretary, who was previously the U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, says he and others have been surprised at the degree to which the country has welcomed foreign military involvement, particularly in the hard-hit Aceh province, where government forces have been fighting an insurgency for many years. Mr. Wolfowitz will be visiting Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka, the three countries hardest hit by last month's earthquake and tsunami.