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US to Raise Tsunami Aid to $950 Million

The Bush administration will ask the U.S. Congress for $950 million to help nations hard hit by the Indian Ocean tsunami.

Some of the money will be used to cover expenses already incurred by the Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Defense Department. The bulk will cover reconstruction efforts, such as rebuilding damaged infrastructure.

It more than doubles the original $350 million pledged by President Bush. U.S. officials say they always expected the aid total to rise significantly as the scope of the disaster became clear, and the relief effort moved from meeting emergency needs to long-term recovery.

The head of the Agency for International Development, Andrew Natsios, says more than six weeks after the tsunami, the survivors are leaving temporary shelters and returning home. He says a priority now is replacing roads destroyed by the Indian Ocean earthquake.

"And we are now talking with the ministries in Indonesia and the ministries in Sri Lanka to focus on projects that are their first priority,” said Mr. Natsios. “This is their reconstruction program, not ours."

The funding will be included in an emergency spending bill that already contains 81-billion dollars for military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz says American troops were proud to help in the initial phase of the tsunami relief, assisting with the distribution of fresh food, water, and other supplies. He says the magnitude of the recovery effort is huge.

"We in the Department of Defense, but also the American people more broadly, having achieved an enormous humanitarian success in the early days in preventing what could have been an even larger catastrophe, now have, I think, a very large stake in making sure that success doesn't go to waste because a subsequent recovery effort failed," said Mr. Wolfowitz.

Mr. Wolfowitz, a former U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia, says the outpouring of U.S. assistance has had quite an impact on the Indonesian people. He notes Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, has a newly-elected democratic government and could serve as a model for others.

"This challenge comes to a country that stands to be in the forefront of that movement and I think it is therefore above and beyond the humanitarian considerations which would be compelling enough. We have enormous interests in seeing it succeed," he added.

American aid officials say overall, this is the most generous relief budget ever bankrolled by the U.S. government. Private donations are also reaching record levels, with estimates putting the total at more than $700 million.