UN takes charge of tsunami relief


Jakarta, January 6:

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan made an impassioned appeal today for nearly a billion dollars of immediate aid for countries stricken by the Asian tsunami disaster as the embattled head of the world body took charge of coordinating the world’s response to the tragedy.

Addressing a one-day summit of world leaders called to organise what will ultimately amount to several billion dollars in relief and long-term reconstruction aid for the Indian Ocean region, Annan said $977 million were needed immediately for specific projects to help five million people.

Annan warned that without rapid action, disease in devastated areas could send the death toll soaring above the 146,000 fatalities already confirmed in 11 nations.

“For the United Nations, it is the largest natural disaster the organisation has had to respond to on behalf of the world community in the 60 years of our existence,” Annan said.

Annan said it was essential individual governments come up with hard cash for the immediate relief effort over the next six months.

Leaders from the seven states worst hit by the earthquake and tsunamis came out strongly in favour of having the UN play the central role in coordinating the relief effort.

“We must ensure that we benefit from the experience of the United Nations in establishing and managing special emergency funds and relief efforts,” said Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said it was crucial the global effort “adopt a more predictable and reliable approach with the UN at its core”.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, whose government is one of the most generous aid donors so far, announced that $250 million of the 500 million in aid Tokyo has already pledged to the region would be funneled to the UN.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell told the summit that Washington was dissolving a “core group” of nations it had formed to expedite aid for tsunami victims outside the UN umbrella.

Today’s meeting brought together leaders from 26 nations and international organisations,

including the prime ministers of Australia, China and Japan, Southeast Asian chiefs and representatives of the European Union, World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The Asian leaders turned to one another in endorsing a regional project to set up a tsunami warning system for the Indian Ocean.

On the sidelines of the meeting, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the European Union will immediately donate $132 million for relief and look at setting up a $1.32 billion loan for affected nations.

Hundreds of heavily armed police and troops ringed the plush Jakarta conference centre hosting the summit.

No respite from aftershocks

NEW DELHI: Aftershocks of the December 26 massive earthquake in Indonesia continued to jolt the Indian Ocean, with four moderate tremors recorded on Thursday. sQuakes measuring 5.7 and 5.8 on the Richter scale were recorded in quick succession shortly after midnight off the west coast of the Great Nicobar island and the west coast of northern Sumatra, an India Meteorological Department official said here.

Two more tremors measuring 5.2 rocked the region close to the Great Nicobar at 4.52 am and 10.22 am, the official said. — HNS

Buddhist temple to be sold for relief

VANCOUVER: A Buddhist congregation in Canada’s British Columbia province will sell its temple to raise $1 million for tsunami relief efforts, reports UPI. Thich Ngyuen Thao, the abbot of the Vietnamese group, said the temple has been on the market for the past year and the highest bid for it was $500,000. Thich said there had been dissent among the 40-member congregation about donating the temple, but all have now come around to the idea. He said the money was also a thank-you to the people of Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia for providing refuge to them in congregation when they were refugee ‘boat people’ in the 1970s. — HNS