- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 26, 2005

An early congressional estimate indicates a $1 billion U.S. contribution to tsunami-related relief and reconstruction.

The figure, which is preliminary, would cover Defense Department and U.S. Agency for International Development funds spent or allocated for emergency efforts, plus new allotments for projects and programs that will help with longer-term recovery.

“It will be in that range,” Rep. Jim Kolbe, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that overseas foreign aid spending, said yesterday. The Arizona Republican said he did not want to commit to an exact figure.

The Dec. 26 earthquake-spawned tsunami off of Sumatra, Indonesia, swept the shores of 12 Indian Ocean nations, killing almost a quarter-million people and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless and without basic services.

The United Nations reported Tuesday that in Indonesia alone, 94,584 bodies were buried, 132,172 people were missing and 394,285 were displaced. The estimated death toll in Sri Lanka was 31,000, with 5,600 missing and nearly 400,000 displaced.

India, Maldives, Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, Somalia and other nations also were battered by the giant waves. Casualty figures are being tallied.

The immediate world response was rapid and generous — more than $5 billion has been pledged — though long-term reconstruction needs are only now being assessed.

A preliminary report by the World Bank estimated the damage and economic loss in Indonesia at $4.5 billion. The bank, in a report yet to be released, projected the figure for Sri Lanka at $1.5 billion.

Mr. Kolbe yesterday mentioned the $1 billion figure after a briefing for his subcommittee by administration officials involved with emergency relief and longer-term rebuilding efforts.

Some of the money would cover Defense Department outlays for aircraft, ships and personnel sent to the region immediately after the disaster, and it would replenish emergency accounts so that relief efforts in other parts of the world would not have to be scaled back.

Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican and chairman of the House International Relations Committee, said yesterday that he would circulate tsunami legislation in the coming days. A House aide said no figure is being publicly released because the congressman did not want to get into a “bidding war” over how much aid to provide.

It is not clear whether the tsunami package will stand alone, or be included with other spending measures. It also is not clear whether Congress will trust the United Nations to coordinate spending.

The United Nations has taken the lead in coordinating relief efforts, but some in Congress think the Iraq oil-for-food scandal has undermined the world body’s credibility.

“I have serious reservations about the ability of the U.N. to manage any funds available for this disaster,” said Jerry Lewis, California Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

The United Nations oversaw the oil-for-food program from 1996 to 2003 to allow Iraq to sell its oil in exchange for essentials, such as food and medicine, while the country was under sanctions. The world body failed to prevent Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein from abusing the program to divert money for his personal gain and for purchases deemed illegal under the sanctions.

“Is this the kind of organization we want to coordinate the disbursement of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to tsunami victims?” Mr. Lewis asked.

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