Thursday, September 22, 2005

More than 143 countries and international organizations have pledged in excess of $800 million in cash assistance to the U.S. government for victims of Hurricane Katrina, and hundreds of millions more have been promised to charitable groups offering disaster relief, according to the State Department.

Aid in the form of commodities — including food, water, fuel, medical supplies, generators, tents and school supplies — has been given to both the U.S. government and to charitable groups, Joseph Sullivan, U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe, said Wednesday at a press conference in Baton Rouge, La.

Mr. Sullivan cited “invaluable” technical assistance provided by personnel from foreign nations, including Germany and Luxembourg. Crews from those countries manned water pumps that they had brought to New Orleans. In addition, Red Cross volunteers from more than a dozen nations are assisting hurricane evacuees.

Much of the foreign aid is being flown to Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas before it is shipped out to evacuees in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas.

“Within 24 to 48 hours of the arrival of [foreign] goods here, they are either on their way or have been received by people in need,” said Rebecca Gustafson, spokeswoman for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

At Wednesday’s briefing, Mr. Sullivan said 114 truckloads and 43 airlifts of foreign supplies had been distributed along the Gulf Coast since Hurricane Katrina struck Aug. 29.

“The American people have a long tradition of extending a hand to those in need. Now, in our time of need, we are deeply touched to see the response of people from every corner of the world,” said Harry Thomas Jr., the State Department’s executive secretary.

The largest donation, to date, is from oil-rich Kuwait, which has provided $100 million in cash and has offered $400 million worth of oil. The entire package has been accepted, Mr. Thomas said.

Two other Persian Gulf nations — Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — each have donated $100 million.

Saudi Arabia has promised nearly $5.3 million in funds from Saudi Refining Inc., a Houston-based subsidiary of Saudi Aramco, and from the Arab Gulf Programme for United Nations Development Organizations.

Its contribution was relatively modest compared with other wealthy nations in the Gulf region and with the offers of impoverished nations, such as Bangladesh, which offered $1 million.

An Associated Press report last week said Iraq has pledged $1 million to the American Red Cross via the Iraqi Red Crescent Society. But Joshua Kittner, a Red Cross spokesman, said the group is not aware of the pledge.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) denied a report in the British press that indicated U.S. government officials planned to burn 400,000 ration packs donated by Britain. The story claimed the USDA found regulatory problems with the rations and that the FDA said they were not fit for human consumption, despite the fact that they are the same rations being fed to British soldiers in Iraq.

Mr. Sullivan acknowledged that certain countries’ offers were denied, including Cuba’s offer to send nearly 1,600 doctors. Mr. Thomas previously pointed out that there are problems in accepting medical personnel from foreign countries because of differences in medical licensing requirements.

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