- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 13, 2005

The U.S. government has spent more than $120 million on emergency relief for victims of the Dec. 26 tsunami that devastated Indian Ocean shores, based on a rough estimate of immediate aid and military expenses.

The U.S. Agency for International Development as of yesterday had spent $87.9 million of a promised $350 million. The funds had been spent on plastic sheeting, water, blankets, hygiene kits, other emergency supplies and grants to aid groups, said Susan Pittman, a USAID spokeswoman.

The Defense Department estimates costs at $5 million to $6 million a day for the past week to fund ships, aircraft and 15,333 U.S. Navy, Marine, Army, Air Force and Coast Guard service members involved in providing relief support.

Relief efforts so far have concentrated on providing water, sanitation, shelter, food and burying the dead in 12 nations around the Indian Ocean. The Associated Press reported yeaterday that more than 157,000 were killed. The United Nations said at least 27,000 are missing and 1.2 million displaced as a result of the tsunami.

Nations have firmly committed $738 million toward emergency relief so far. The remaining billions are pledged.

Aid officials expect to draw up detailed plans to spend more than $5 billion in promised tsunami reconstruction money in two to three months, after assessments are compiled and coordinated.

“The reconstruction phase will perhaps be … even more difficult than the relief phase,” said Jan Egeland, U.N. emergency relief coordinator.

Response to the Dec. 26 natural disaster moves through phases — emergency relief, then rehabilitation and reconstruction.

“[Reconstruction] should start in our heads immediately, and on the ground as soon as possible,” Mr. Egeland said yesterday from New York.

He said some rebuilding already has started in India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Thailand. But the overall effort is expected to take two to five years, and longer-term planning will require more comprehensive, coordinated assessment of needs — possibly to be completed next month. A formal conference will draw up detailed plans in March.

Governments in affected countries are expected to take the lead in determining specific projects, but the United Nations, development banks, donors and other groups will assist.

“I think a month or two or even three to fill in the details is something we should expect,” World Bank President James Wolfensohn said Wednesday in Washington after a tour of the devastated region.

After disasters in other parts of the world, reconstruction projects have included road and bridge repairs, housing projects, health clinics, irrigation systems and school construction.

Donors can pick and choose their own priorities and projects, and tally a variety of contributions toward initial pledges. The United States and other nations could, for example, count military costs toward pledges, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance said.

Congress is expected to consider expanding the immediate $350 million tsunami relief package later this month or in February. “The world should know that the American people and their Congress will help until no more help is needed,” House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, said last week.

Already officials are hoping to be able to fund a variety of projects that will boost local economies. Many of the areas hardest hit by the massive wave of water already were poor.

The Asian Development Bank in a report this week said economic dislocation caused by the tsunami could throw 2 million people in the region into poverty.

“But the economies of the affected countries except Sri Lanka and the Maldives should emerge with minimal damage,” said Ifzal Ali, chief economist with the Manila-based bank.

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