- The Washington Times - Monday, January 3, 2005

Dozens of governmental agencies, private relief groups and international organizations are moving deeper into areas destroyed by last week’s tsunami and flooding in Asia and Africa, a vast and complicated effort that is costing millions of dollars and hopes to invest billions to rebuild the region.

The United States has pledged $350 million toward relief and reconstruction. The United Nations’ reported contributions had reached more than $1.5 billion, not including loans. Private donations are adding millions more.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, in the region yesterday to assess damage from the natural disaster, said relief efforts face logistical difficulties but are progressing.

“There is no shortage of money at the moment. The international organizations are being adequately provided for now, but there will be needs in the future,” Mr. Powell said.

Mr. Powell is scheduled to meet with counterparts from Southeast Asia and Europe on Thursday in Jakarta, Indonesia, and separately with officials from India, Japan and Australia — members of a working group organized by President Bush — to coordinate relief and reconstruction work. A U.N. donor conference is set for next Tuesday in Geneva.

Several relief groups said they looked to the United Nations as coordinating emergency efforts, although officially there is no single agency in charge. U.S. and U.N. officials said there is no tug of war to coordinate relief, and the final roles in the effort have not been determined.

“There is no organization standing in place, ready to deal with something like this,” Mr. Powell said.

While politicians coordinate the big picture, international, governmental and private aid workers on the ground are struggling with lack of transportation, damaged roads and other logistical problems as they try to speed relief to wrecked areas.

More than 139,000 are dead in 12 nations, while millions more are left homeless, the United Nations said.

Many of the public and private groups involved in the ongoing relief effort have long-standing relationships and have worked together on development projects and relief programs. Many have their own niches.

“We have our very specialized focuses. That’s what makes us impact players in these emergencies,” said John Sauer, spokesman for Action Against Hunger.

Action Against Hunger, an international relief group, was already working in Sri Lanka. Since the tsunami, its staff has been building temporary latrines, trucking in water and transporting bodies to hospitals and morgues.

The American Red Cross is focusing on providing food and making sure that shipments reach people who need them.

“We want to make sure relief is … not just sitting in an airport hangar,” said Darren Irby, a spokesman.

Dozens of private groups turned local development projects into emergency relief efforts.

Mercy Corps, a charity with offices in Portland, Ore., is focusing on distributing water, water-purification tablets and plastic sheeting to small islands close to the earthquake’s epicenter, but hopes to switch to digging wells and building more permanent shelters soon, said spokeswoman Susan Laarman.

The groups all are seeking donations to ratchet up reconstruction. Mercy Corps is trying to raise $15 million and had received $8 million as of yesterday.

Action Against Hunger yesterday said it had raised $350,000 in online donations, had $1.4 million in relief going to Sri Lanka and Indonesia and estimated that it would quickly spend an additional $4 million.

“We need to raise more,” Mr. Sauer said, adding that the agencies need money, rather than contributions of food or clothing.

The American Red Cross has received $79.2 million in donations for tsunami relief and has promised an initial $25 million in food and $5 million in supplies. Mr. Irby said the group’s experience with hurricanes helps it estimate financial needs from natural disasters, and because many donations are targeted at a specific cause, “we can make an educated guess when to turn donations off.”

Corporations also have helped.

As of last week, corporate donations to UNICEF and Save the Children reached almost $8 million. Companies including soft drink maker Coca-Cola, pharmaceutical company Pfizer, energy giant ExxonMobil, bank Citigroup, shoemaker Nike and software giant Microsoft have pledged multimillion-dollar donations.

Ron Redmond, spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said the freight-forwarding company DHL had provided free warehouse space in Jakarta for the agency’s 400-ton emergency airlift of nonfood supplies for the Aceh province in Indonesia.

The transport group TNT also provided a fleet of trucks to ferry supplies from Madan to Aceh, which can take up to 16 hours, Mr. Redmond said.

“They have been extremely generous and are helping to resolve the bottleneck,” Mr. Redmond said.

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