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Summit calls for a world acting in unison
(China Daily/Agencies)
Updated: 2005-01-07 01:32

Heartbroken mothers crying amid rows of dead babies, massive tidal waves sweeping away homes -- what happened 11 days ago when a savage tsunami battered the Indian Ocean's rim was graphically recalled in videos screened at the tsunami summit in Jakarta.

"I am sure the leaders from the disaster areas will easily testify what you have seen on the TV screen represents only a small sample of the painful realities on the ground," said Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. "What the victims went through staggers our imagination."

In a day when Australia upped its aid package by US$1 billion in new money, leaders from around the world gathered in the Indonesian capital.

They welcomed debt relief for countries hit by the disaster and supported the creation of a tsunami early warning system to prevent awful loss of life in the future.

The need in most of the countries hit is enormous.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan put it somberly:

"From the nameless fishing villages of Sumatra to the modern tourist resorts of Thailand; from the beaches of Sri Lanka and India to the coastal communities of the Maldives and Somalia, the disaster was so brutal, so quick, and so far-reaching, that we are still struggling to comprehend it."

Treating the wounded

"Our response to this unprecedented catastrophe must be equally unprecedented, so that we can immediately put an end to the human suffering and misery that came after," said Susilo.

And Annan, acknowledging that although people were powerless to stop the tsunami, together they have the power to stop further suffering as a result of polluted drinking water, destroyed infrastructure, lack of food, clothing and shelter, preventable problems and despair from people who cannot alone rebuild their lives.

"There are daunting logistical constraints, but they are not insurmountable. It is a race against time, but together with the host Governments, we are overcoming them, every hour, we are seeing more goods reaching those in need," said Annan.

Governments around the world have already pledged US$3.7 billion in aid so far and private groups, corporations and individuals another US$630 million.

But Annan appealed to the global community for an immediate US$977 million to cover urgent humanitarian needs for the 5 million survivors over the next six months.

The funds are needed for food, agriculture, healthcare, water and sanitation, shelter and other urgent non-food items and for the early restoration of livelihoods, he said.

Annan asked donor nations to quickly translate their pledges into cash.

Appeal for aid

President Susilo said self-reliant as the afflicted countries should like to be, they cannot muster all the necessary resources for emergency relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction, whose combined costs will be staggering.

"In this regard, we truly appreciate the help already received and pledges of support from Governments and peoples all over the world," he said.

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said yesterday international aid should not be just about financial assistance.

It should be about doing whatever is needed to ease the suffering of tens of thousands touched by this disaster and then rebuilding the local economies.

As government leaders reflected in the wake of the disaster, many agreed on the necessity for an early warning system similar to the one in place in the Pacific Ocean. Such a system would be cheaper on the Indian Ocean.

"No longer must we leave ourselves so vulnerable and so exposed... it is well proven that 10 minutes advance warning can save hundreds of lives," said Thai foreign minister Surakiart Sathirathai.

Joint declaration

The one-day summit ended with a joint declaration, where delegates appealed for stronger co-ordination and co-operation of relief efforts.

The delegates asked the UN "to convene an international pledging conference for the sustainability of humanitarian relief efforts" and explore establishing a standby arrangement "for immediate humanitarian relief efforts."

The declaration states the delegates "welcome the initiative of several countries on the moratorium of payments of the external debt burden of the affected countries.

"We believe that through concerted efforts, spurred by a spirit of compassion and sacrifice and endurance, together, we will prevail in overcoming this catastrophe."

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