World leaders at an aid summit in the Indonesian capital Jakarta on Thursday agreed to set up a tsunami early warning system. Debt repayment for affected countries will also be delayed.
An early warning could have saved thousands of lives
Close to €3 billion ($4 billion) in aid has been pledged by individuals and governments, but the one-day emergency conference was called to address longer-term aid efforts and to make sure help gets to the five million people who need it -- the survivors of the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster.
Aid organizations are concerned that the various donors might fail to deliver on pledges once media attention turns elsewhere.
Bringing together leaders from 26 countries and organizations, the summit tackled debt relief for the hardest-hit nations, as rich countries agreed to allow interest and repayment to be postponed to aid reconstruction efforts. Those attending also agreed to set up an early warning system for the Indian Ocean and developing structures to improve coordination of the relief effort.
The emergency summit for the 11 stricken countries opened with a minute's silence. The first person to address the gathering was the conference host, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
"We do not yet have a name for the quake and tsunami that hit our regions on the 26th of December, 2004," he said. "But we know that it's the most destructive natural disaster in living memory."
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan addresses a press conference at the tsunami summit in Jakarta, Indonesia, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2005.
While World Health Organization experts warned that the death toll in the countries hit by the tsunami could double unless swift action is taken to prevent the spread of disease, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said some €750 million ($979 million) would be needed in the next six months to meet the emergency requirements of 5 million people.
"What happened on Dec. 26 was an unprecedented, global catastrophe," he said. "It requires an unprecedented, global response."
UN relief coordinator Jan Egeland said the UN was expecting to care for up to 800,000 tsunami survivors in Indonesia alone for the next year. Officials also warned that orphaned children could easily end up kidnapped by traffickers.
Speaking to the press later, Annan dismissed notions of a rivalry between rich nations to be the most generous donor.
"I am encouraged and I think it is not a beauty contest," he said. "I think all the leaders here are genuinely concerned and would like to make every contribution they can."
No more core group
US Secretary of State Colin Powell announced at the conference that his country was dissolving the "core group" of nations it formed with India, Japan and Australia to expedite aid for victims of the Asian tsunami disaster.
"The core group helped to catalyze the international response," he said. "Now having served its purpose, it will now fold itself into the broader coordination efforts of the United Nations."
Some saw the four-nation group, later joined by Canada and the Netherlands, as overlapping or competing with the United Nations, which traditionally has taken the lead in coordinating international responses to disasters.
"We recognize that the governments of the affected nations have the primary role in rebuilding their countries," Powell said. "But in the face of a disaster of this immensity, international help and cooperation is crucial. The United States welcomes the coordinating role of the United Nations."
He said UN Secretary General Kofi Annan "can count on our full support. We look forward to participating in the UN Donors Conference in Geneva on Jan. 11."
Pressing for UN leadership
Leaders of the countries worst affected by the catastrophe, including Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand, pressed at the Jakarta conference for UN leadership of the reconstruction drive. Hatsuhisa Takashima, spokesman for Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura, said that in the face of such pressure, "the role of the so-called core group is expected to be transferred to the United Nations."
Speculation mounted before the conference over whether the US would raise its aid commitment after moves by Australia and Germany to boost theirs.
"In all likelihood our contribution will be revised upward as the full effects of this massive tragedy can be better assessed," Powell told the afflicted nations. "President Bush wants you to know that you will have the full support of the United States as you go through the process of relief, recovery, and reconstruction."
Petty Officer 3rd Class Darcy Plumley from Sallisaw, Oklahoma signals to colleagues before loading containers of water onto a navy helicopter onboard USS Abraham Lincoln off the northern coast of the Indonesian province of Aceh.
The US secretary of state told the conference that some $200 million in private donations had been raised in the United States and stressed the massive relief operation mounted by its military. He said more than 14,000 military personnel were dispatched to the region, along with a carrier group, an amphibious group, helicopters, supply and patrol planes and ships able to supply tens of thousands of gallons of fresh water.
China and Japan pledge cooperation
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao met on the sidelines of the summit, both interested in seeing their play prominent roles in the relief effort.
The two countries have seen their relations sharply deteriorate in recent months, but their leaders pledged in Jakarta to work together to help victims of Asia's tsunami disaster.
"I would like to strengthen the cooperative relationship between Japan and China in the field of disaster assistance," Wen told Koizumi, as quoted by a Japanese foreign ministry official.
China has pledged over $63 million in aid to tsunami-hit nations -- an unusually high amount for a developing country -- while Japan has promised $500 million and sent its military on its biggest ever relief mission.