World Leaders Gather to Pledge Aid for Tsunami Survivors

JAKARTA, Indonesia, January 6, 2005 (ENS) - Today the United Nations launched a flash appeal for nearly US$1 billion in funding to respond to the "urgent and immediate" needs of the communities shattered by the earthquake and tsunami that hit coastal areas in India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Maldives on December 26, 2004. High-level officials from more than 20 nations have gathered for a one day meeting to address the emergency need for funding.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies currently puts the number of dead at 150,000, injured at 525,000, and homeless at 1,000,000. At least five million people are displaced across 12 countries.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan is in Jakarta to present the $977 million flash appeal for emergency aid the largest ever for a natural disaster, almost three times the previous record.

In the final day leading up to the meeting, some 50 donor nations had pledged between $3 and $4 billion in relief aid - money, relief supplies, helicopters and airplanes.


UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged donors to give generously and praised those who have cooperated to assist the survivors. (Photo courtesy WHO)
As we grieve for the dead and pray for those still searching for loved ones, we have a duty to the survivors, Annan told the meeting of world leaders. He called for a concerted effort to prevent a second wave of death from preventable causes due to polluted water, and a third wave of despair where people cannot recover their livelihoods, homes or communities.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned again today that 150,000 people are at "extreme risk" of dying from preventable diseases unless clean drinking water and other basic needs are restored within days.

If basic needs, particularly access to safe drinking water, are not restored to all populations by the end of this week, WHO officials fear that "outbreaks of infectious disease could result in a similar number of fatalities as occurred due to the direct impact of the tsunami," the agency said, appealing for $60 million to address immediate needs.

Annan said the disaster has inspired divergent groups across the globe to pull together to help the survivors. The past 11 days have been among the darkest in our lifetime, Annan said. But they have also allowed us to see a new kind of light. We have seen the world coming together. We have seen a response based not on our differences, but on what unites us. We have seen an opportunity to heal old wounds and long-running conflicts."

We have seen everyone pull together," Annan said, "North and South, East and West, governments and citizens, the media and the military, business and religious leaders, nongovernmental organizations and international institutions. Let us now show that we are committed for as long as it takes.


On December 26, 2004 the tsunami triggered by a 9.0 earthquake off the northwest coast of Sumatra, Indonesia sent giant waves rolling across the Indian Ocean, killing children like this girl in India's Tamil Nadu state. (Photo by Ananda Vikatan courtesy T.C. Malhotra)
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the money is urgently needed by UN agencies and nongovernmental organizations to plan and implement a strategic, efficient, and coordinated response to the needs of some five million people from now until the end of June.

Programs outlined in the flash appeal focus on keeping people alive and supporting their efforts to recover. The funds will be spent to restore agriculture, education, health, food, shelter, or water and sanitation sectors.

Reaching isolated communities is a challenge because the tsunami destroyed transportation infrastructure and communication systems, said the UN humanitarian agency. Strong coordination with governments and between governments and the international community will ensure that assistance is efficient and reaches the people who need aid most, the agency said.

Sectors covered for the next six months include $229 million for food and agriculture, $172 million for health care, $61 million for water and sanitation, $222 million for shelter and other urgent non-food items, and $110 million for the early restoration of livelihoods.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today announced a US$256 million appeal to provide food assistance over six months for two million people battered and traumatized by the earthquake and tsunami that washed out coastal villages and towns in Asia and East Africa.


Volunteers of the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society assist in the distribution of relief assistance in the Galle region. (Photo courtesy IFRC)
WFPs appeal was launched by WFP Executive Director James Morris in conjunction with the UN's overall appeal. Some 169,000 metric tons of food costing US$185 million will be needed to provide crucial assistance for two million people. In view of the huge difficulties reaching remote areas where infrastructure was destroyed, WFP will use US$71 million to boost logistics, transport and communications across the region for the entire humanitarian community just as it did in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This is more than just a disaster for those countries directly concerned, it is a truly global disaster, said Morris. There are a large number of victims from both rich and poor countries. Billions of people around the world have watched this human tragedy engulf 10 countries in Asia and Africa. Thankfully, this has drawn the swiftest, most generous donor response in history.

WFPs emergency operation aims to provide food assistance to one million tsunami survivors in Indonesia, the hardest hit country. The WFP will feed 750,000 people in Sri Lanka, 50,000 in the Maldives, and another 200,000 people elsewhere who may need assistance.

"WFP food will help with the immediate needs of those who have lost family members, houses and livelihoods said Morris. "But as they gradually get back on their feet, this six month operation will shift its focus from ending their immediate hunger to sustaining families while they revive their farmland, repair their fishing boats and communities."

In addition to coordination of the aid effort and rebuilding process, the world leaders will consider the possibility of debt relief or suspension of payments for affected nations, and construction of an early warning system that might allow enough time for evacuation if another giant wave rises out of the Indian Ocean in the future. Since no tsunami had ever struck the region before, no warning system was in place on December 26.


U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, center, visits an Indonesian tsunami patient under the care of the Australian Defense Force Aero Medical Evacuation team in Banda Aceh January 5. Powell is accompanied by AME commanding officer Wind Commander Bill Griggs wearing a Red Cross. (Photo courtesy U.S. State Department)
After surveying the destruction in Bandar Aceh, the capital of Aceh province, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, a veteran of wars and disasters, told the press, "I have never seen anything like it in my experience."

During a Wednesday press conference at the Bandar Aceh airport, Powell expressed the condolences of the American government and the American people to the Indonesian tsunami victims. Powell was accompanied by U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Andrew Natsios and President George W. Bush's brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, whose own state experienced devastating hurricanes in 2004.

"The American people, the American government will do everything we can to help the Indonesian government in relieving human suffering and in also beginning the reconstruction process," Powell said.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard said Wednesday that he has formed a reconstruction and development partnership with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. "This is significantly different in scale and approach from any previous aid effort," Howard emphasized, saying that his government has pledged to contribute A$1 billion over five years to the partnership.

"The $1 billion of new money will consist of equal parts of grant assistance and highly concessional financing," Howard said.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) will need about $574 million for their programmes, said IFRC Secretary General Markku Niskala in Jakarta today.

"The unique nature of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, with volunteers in local communities in 11 of the 12 directly affected countries, means that we were there in the first minutes and hours," said Niskala, "and will remain focused on assisting the affected communities for months and years to come."