- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 29, 2004

U.S. aid to the Asian nations devastated by the worst natural catastrophe in decades is likely to shoot past $35 million as disaster team specialists analyze what is needed to help the countries rebuild.

“I think it is fair to say we’ve only made an initial contribution at this point,” said Andrew Natsios, director of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

“Once [disaster-area response team reports] come in, they will give us an assessment on what the additional requirements are, and we will make follow-on announcements,” he told The Washington Times.

Mr. Natsios said it will take years before the affected regions recover.

For now, he said, the international effort is focused on emergency responses in the areas of shelter, food, health and medical care, water and sanitation.

“Once that is complete … then we can move into the rehabilitation phase, to restore basic services to pre-disaster levels,” he said.

Although Asia has suffered other large disasters, such as the North Korean famine of the 1990s and the Bangladeshi typhoon of 1991, Mr. Natsios said, this is the first time the world has seen a disaster affect so many countries simultaneously.

The challenge for the international community, he said, is to effectively manage the logistics efforts for the worst-hit countries and the less-affected nations.

Mr. Natsios urged those who wanted to help to contribute through larger, established organizations. Boxes of commodities sent by individuals probably would not reach their destinations for another month.

“It is best to give cash to be used to buy stuff locally,” he said. USAID’s Web site, www.usaid.gov, has a list of charities to which people can donate.

Amid all the destruction and death, Mr. Natsios said, there could be a small ray of hope: a change in the dynamics of the civil wars in Sri Lanka and Indonesia’s Aceh province.

“I can’t make a prediction, [but] I can tell you that disasters frequently change the political dynamic in the countries they take place in,” he said. “We would all pray that would be the case.”

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