Thu, Jan 20, 2005 - Page 5 News List

UN calls for increase in tsunami aid

CLEARER PICTURE Officials have raised the death toll to 162,000 as more details of damage emerge in Indonesia, where one town lost nearly 90 percent of its population


Volunteers from the Islamic Defender Front, a hardline Islamic group, collect bodies from the debris in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, yesterday.


The UN yesterday updated the staggering devastation wrought by South Asia's earthquake-spawned killer waves and called for more aid.

UN officials said a clearer picture was emerging of the destruction in Indonesia's Aceh province. In some areas, fatality rates topped 75 percent and 100 percent of homes were destroyed, said Kevin Kennedy, a senior official in the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The town of Calang, for example, lost 90 percent of its population -- or 6,550 people out of the pre-tsunami population of 7,300, he said. The survivors are in dire need of assistance, he added.

All told, the Dec. 26 tsunami killed more than 162,000 people in 11 nations around the Indian Ocean.

Delegates gathered at an international disaster conference in Kobe, Japan, called for a tsunami warning system in the Indian Ocean like the one that already exists in the Pacific.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on rich countries to help rebuild devoured villages.

"We know from experience that the poor always suffer the most enduring damage from such natural disasters as their assets are often completely wiped out," Annan said. "So we need to focus on longer-term recovery and reconstruction, and ensure that from now on, there are no gaps in the future funding effort."

The international community has pledged billions of dollars in various forms of relief, and the UN wants US$977 million from member nations to cover the emergency humanitarian needs of an estimated 5 million people.

So far, US$739 million has been offered, and Indonesia is expected to get the biggest chunk.

In Jakarta, Indonesia's foreign minister said the country will work with donor countries to ensure aid for tsunami victims is not stolen by corrupt officials, and that it has appointed accounting firm Ernst & Young to track the funds. Indonesia is regularly listed as one of the world's most corrupt countries.

Hassan Wirayuda said most foreign governments that have donated aid are also demanding that they be allowed to manage the funds along with Indonesia -- a demand he said Jakarta had no problems in fulfilling.

"There is no need to be suspicious of Indonesia's management of funds," he said. "It is in our interest that the money is managed in a transparent and accountable way."

Local anti-graft activists have said they fear that about 30 percent of the aid money projected to be spent on Indonesia's recovery could be stolen -- about the average that disappears each year from the national government's budget.

In Indonesia's Aceh province, which suffered two-thirds of the tsunami deaths, US helicopters were flying 80 missions a day, said Captain Matt Klunder, a Naval Air Wing 2 deputy commander. With the stepped-up flights, villagers were no longer mobbing the helicopters out of desperation as soon as they touched down, he said.

"Now there's a little more confidence because they know that on a somewhat regular basis we can get them foodstuffs and water," he said.

In the past week, the missions have begun reaching survivors who had sheltered in the mountains after the tsunami and only recently felt safe enough to return to the coast, Klunder said. Among that group, the needs are still great and conditions sometimes desperate, he added.

Across the sea in Sri Lanka, where the death toll was expected to exceed 40,000 people, aid efforts were proceeding smoothly and equitably to areas under government and rebel control, Kennedy said. Tamil rebels in the island nation have been fighting for a separate homeland for nearly three decades.

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