World leaders, aid officials huddle for tsunami aid


Jakarta, January 5:

World leaders and aid workers were preparing today to coordinate distribution of billions of dollars in aid to countries hit by the worst natural disaster in decades.

They also will discuss setting up a warning system so a future tsunami won’t leave tens of thousands dead on the Indian Ocean’s shores.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Australian PM John Howard, Chinese PM Wen Jiabao, Japanese PM Junichiro Koizumi and US Secretary of State Colin Powell were among the officials expected in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, for a summit tomorrow on tsunami relief. Annan landed in Jakarta this morning.

Already about $2 billion has been pledged from around the world to help the millions of victims rebuild from the December 26 tsunami. The UN has performed rapid assessments in countries hit by the tsunami, and tomorrow’s meeting aims to get donors to commit to specific aid and reconstruction projects, said Bo Asplund, United Nations representative in Indonesia. Bringing together representatives of all the affected countries will allow aid officials to get commitments for relief for at least the next six months, said Michael Elmquist, who is heading the UN aid efforts in Indonesia’s Aceh province. The countries also hope to prevent similar disasters in the future by creating a warning system for tsunamis in the Indian Ocean.

Leaders of nations in the regional ASEAN group will also talk about establishing a quick-response system to assist each other if a member country is hit by a natural disaster, said Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa.

Another issue on the agenda will be possible debt relief to affected countries, many of which are developing nations that rely on international assistance. Security for the arriving dignitaries was also a concern, with Indonesia home to the Al Qaeda-allied terror group Jemaah Islamiyah that has been blamed for three major bombings in the past couple years. Some 8,000 police and soldiers were being deployed in Jakarta, said Maj Gen Johni Yojatna, deputy chief of security affairs at the national police. Meanwhile, US Secertary of State Colin Powell today pledged to increase his nation’s military relief efforts to Indonesia after witnessing first hand the devastation from the tsunami in Aceh.

Meanwhile, fearing child-trafficking gangs will exploit the chaos of the tsunami disaster, Indonesia has slapped restrictions on youngsters leaving the country, ordered police commanders to be on the lookout for trafficking and posted special guards in refugee camps.

The moves this week come amid concerns by child welfare groups such as UNICEF that the gangs are whisking orphaned children into trafficking networks, selling them into forced labour or even sexual slavery in wealthier neighbouring countries such as Malaysia and Singapore. Haggard, dehydrated tsunami survivors are flooding the disaster zone, as Sri Lankan psychologists struggle to help children cope with unspeakable tragedy and Indian officials reach out to isolated tribespeople — only to have an arrow shot toward their rescue chopper.

These are just a few of the challenges facing global relief operations following last week’s earthquake-tsunami disaster. Aftershocks continue to rattle the region, with another strong quake felt today, but there were no reports of new casualties.