World leaders open tsunami aid summit in Jakarta
World leaders opened an emergency summit Thursday with a moment of silence for the tens of thousands of tsunami victims, before focusing on the best way to rush nearly $4 billion pledged worldwide to millions of survivors.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the gathering that the world was
in a race against time to get food, medicine and supplies to the neediest.
"Millions in Asia, Africa, and even in far away countries, are suffering unimaginable trauma and psychological wounds that will take a long time to heal," he said. "The disaster was so brutal, so quick, and so far-reaching, that we are still struggling to comprehend it."
He said his organization continued to estimate that the final death toll will surpass 150,000 from the giant waves spawned by a 9.0 earthquake off Indonesia's northwest coast Dec. 26.
"Although we were powerless to stop the tsunami, together we have the power to stop those next waves," Annan said, calling for the establishment of a tsunami warning system in the Indian Ocean.
Early Thursday, a 6.2-magnitude aftershock centered close to the provincial capital Banda Aceh shook the city. Many residents fled into the streets fearing their homes might collapse, but there were no reports of fresh casualties. Hundreds of quakes have rattled the region since Dec. 26, but Thursday's was among the strongest.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has pledged more help for quake and tsunami-hit Indonesia and other nations after flying to Jakarta.
The premier said China is willing to send epidemic prevention experts and medical teams to Indonesia. China is also ready to help rebuild roads, bridges and power stations in the country.
Wen also offered to share China's experience and expertise in earthquake
Powell, a battle-hardened veteran of the Vietnam War, was aghast at the devastation on Indonesia's Sumatra island. "I've never seen anything like this," he said.
"I cannot begin to imagine the horror that went through the families and all of the people who heard this noise coming and then had their lives snuffed out by this wave," Powell said. "The power of the wave ... to destroy everything in its path is amazing."
India has politely turned down the unprecedented offers of money and military might, but many Indonesians appeared to be putting pride aside: During Powell's visit, survivors expressed gratitude for American aid.
The summit came just hours after some nations increased their pledges, bringing the worldwide total from governments to about $3.8 billion. Australia promised $810 million — the largest so far — topping a $674 million German aid package.
The fresh outpouring of generosity appeared at times to be almost like a bidding war and raised questions about whether rich nations were using tragedy to jockey for influence on the world stage and with hardest-hit Indonesia, which has a wealth of natural resources.
Louis Michel, the European Commissioner for development and humanitarian aid, urged donors not to engage in one-upsmanship. "We have to be careful and not participate in a beauty contest where we are competing to give higher figures," he said.
But U.N. humanitarian chief Jan Egeland, the man who riled Washington by complaining that wealthy nations were often "stingy," said Tuesday: "I'd rather see competitive compassion than no compassion."
Michel also said too many countries were making pledges that may not be honored.
A little over a year ago, donors promised Iran more than $1 billion in relief after an earthquake killed 26,000 people there. Iranian officials say only $17.5 million has been sent.
Egeland, at the United Nations, called Australia's and Germany's pledges "phenomenal" and said the offers were so large that his staff members had to ask donors to repeat what they said to make sure they heard the number of zeroes correctly.
In the early days of the disaster, Australia pledged $46 million. The country increased that pledge by another $764 million Wednesday, bringing its overall commitment to $810 million, officials said. Most of the pledge is for neighboring Indonesia.
"Out of the appalling tragedy of the tsunami has emerged an opportunity to build a new future," Australian Prime Minister John Howard said. Rocky ties between Australia and Indonesia have improved steadily since the nations came together in the aftermath of the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.
The United States was the first to raise the stakes dramatically in the aid race by pledging $350 million on Friday; it now lies fourth on the donor list and has sent in two aircraft carrier groups and thousands of troops. Japan last week promised a $500 million package.
The donors' conference was focusing on how best to allocate the billions in aid following a disaster that wiped out villages and infrastructure, left millions homeless and threatened with disease, and killed more than 139,000 people. Leaders also were to discuss a warning system to prevent massive death tolls from future tsunamis.
The World Health Organization said it urgently needs $60 million to provide safe drinking water, sanitation, shelter, food, medical and other supplies to prevent disease outbreaks that would put another 150,000 people at "extreme risk" of dying. The United Nations announced that camps for up to 500,000 tsunami refugees will be built on Sumatra.
North Korea has chipped in with a pledge of $150,000. Convicts in Malaysia were donating money earned doing prison work, and war-torn Afghanistan planned to send doctors.
Some refugees on the eastern coast of Sri Lanka began returning home after 10 days in limbo. They went back however they could — on foot, by bicycle or in motorized rickshaw taxis.
But most of the survivors from Nasuvantivu village found they had nothing to go back to.
Subramaniam Nadarasa's once solid brick home, set among coconut trees on the sandy beach, was stripped to its cement floor. Blocks of the blue-painted walls lay broken. A pot and his crumpled blue bicycle were all that remained of his possessions.