- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The Bush administration yesterday pledged $15 million to Asian nations hit by a tsunami that has killed more than 22,500 people, although the United Nations’ humanitarian-aid chief called the donation “stingy.”

“The United States, at the president’s direction, will be a leading partner in one of the most significant relief, rescue and recovery challenges that the world has ever known,” said White House deputy press secretary Trent Duffy.

But U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland suggested that the United States and other Western nations were being “stingy” with relief funds, saying there would be more available if taxes were raised.

“It is beyond me why are we so stingy, really,” the Norwegian-born U.N. official told reporters. “Christmastime should remind many Western countries at least, [of] how rich we have become.”

“There are several donors who are less generous than before in a growing world economy,” he said, adding that politicians in the United States and Europe “believe that they are really burdening the taxpayers too much, and the taxpayers want to give less. It’s not true. They want to give more.”

In response to Mr. Egeland’s comments, Mr. Duffy pointed out that the United States is “the largest contributor to international relief and aid efforts, not only through the government, but through charitable organizations. The American people are very giving.”

Offers of aid have poured in from around the world in the past two days, with the European Union’s executive arm releasing $4 million in emergency aid and pledging an additional $27 million. Canada and several European nations — including Spain, Germany, Ireland and Belgium — each pledged about $1 million yesterday.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell hinted that the $15 million U.S. offer was only the first installment of a larger aid package to those countries devastated by 30-foot waves triggered by a massive underwater earthquake.

“We also have to see this not just as a one-time thing,” he said. “Some 20-plus thousand lives have been lost in a few moments, but the lingering effects will be there for years.

“The damage that was caused, the rebuilding of schools and other facilities will take time,” he added. “So you need a quick infusion to stabilize the situation, take care of those who have been injured, get immediate relief supplies in, and then you begin planning for the longer haul.”

If that planning calls for significant food aid, the United States might have to scramble.

“Even before the crisis in the Asia-Pacific region and the Indian Ocean, the demands for food aid were stretching capacity: demands in Sudan, demands in West Africa, demands in other areas hit by drought and fighting,” State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said.

“So even though we’re giving a lot, the demand is very high,” he added. “We’re going to have to look at, as we move forward, what we can do to meet that demand.”

Money and food are not the only types of aid being sent by the Bush administration. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) also is sending a 21-member disaster-relief team to the region.

Also, the Pentagon has dispatched military patrol planes from the Pacific Fleet. President Bush has written letters of condolence to seven of the affected nations — Bangladesh, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, India, the Maldives and Malaysia.

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