- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 9, 2005

President Bush yesterdaysaid he would ask Congress for $950 million to support countries recovering from the Indian Ocean tsunami, a figure that would make the United States the single-largest donor to relief and reconstruction efforts.

“We will use these resources to provide assistance and to work with the affected nations on rebuilding vital infrastructure that re-energizes economies and strengthens societies,” Mr. Bush said.

The commitment would come just as attention to the Dec. 26 disaster is fading and the United Nations and some affected countries increasingly are concerned that promises of financial assistance and other aid will not be honored.

An earthquake off the coast of Sumatra, an Indonesian island, and the ensuing tsunami killed more than 150,000 people and displaced more than 1 million in a dozen countries, according to figures compiled by the United Nations and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Tens of thousands still are missing, while homes have been ruined and livelihoods have been lost.

The international response has been generous, and attention has been extensive during initial emergency-relief efforts to find and bury bodies, supply water and sanitation, build temporary shelter, provide food, and inject some cash into local economies.

The president’s request, if approved by Congress, would increase total international pledges toward tsunami-related aid to more than $6 billion.

Much of the international commitment only is on paper so far.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) initially appealed for $977 million to cover specific projects during six months of work and, in response, donors pledged $859 million and actually have committed $672 million, OCHA said yesterday.

Donor countries have not provided enough funds for temporary housing or to help with job creation for tsunami survivors, Margareta Wahlstrom, the United Nations’ special tsunami-relief envoy, said yesterday in Geneva.

U.N. officials also are concerned that much of the $6 billion never will be paid.

“We know a lot of that will be for longer-term aid — this emergency will not end when the [$977 million] appeal ends. But our concern is [that countries] deliver on those pledges,” said Stephanie Bunker, an OCHA spokeswoman based in New York.

The initial reconstruction estimate for Indonesia alone is $4.5 billion, and for Sri lanka $1.5 billion, the World Bank said. The Maldives, Thailand, Malaysia, Somalia and India also were hit hard by the tsunami.

The U.S. promise of $950 million would raise by $600 million an earlier commitment by the Bush administration for tsunami-related aid. The budget request will be included in an $81 billion supplemental, mostly to cover expenses of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, expected to head to Capitol Hill on Monday, officials said.

The tsunami-related allocation would replenish $346 million already spent by USAID and the Defense Department on the disaster relief effort in the Indian Ocean.

The remaining money would include $339 million for reconstruction of bridges, roads, schools and other infrastructure; $168 million for food aid, housing, education and back-to-work programs; $35 million toward improving U.S. and international tsunami, typhoon and other natural-disaster early warning systems; and $62 million in technical assistance, such as the cost of U.S. advisers.

The Bush administration initially was stung by the perception that it was slow to offer significant aid.

Following a comment from a U.N. official that western nations were stingy with development aid, other countries quickly began offering hefty sums. Germany promised almost $666 million, the European Union about $630 million, Japan about $501 million, France about $443 million, and Australia about $431 million, according to OCHA figures.

An initial U.S. promise of $15 million soon was upped to $350 million, and the United States responded with a military deployment that included almost 16,000 personnel, 26 ships and more than 100 aircraft.


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