UN urges donors at Jakarta conference to give US$ 1bn for tsunami emergency
Kofi Annan says we may never know how many people actually died. US disbands core group formed to tackle the crisis and yields to UN. China and Japan join hands to provide humanitarian aid.

Jakarta (AsiaNews/Agencies) – After a minute of silence to honour the victims, the international summit on tsunami relief opened today in Jakarta amidst tight security measures to coordinate the aid and rescue efforts in the countries affected by the December 26 calamity.

Leaders from the ten ASEAN nations as well as those from China, India, Sri Lanka, Japan, South Korea, European Union, United States, United Nations, the World Bank, the World Health and the Asian Development Bank met to plan the long term rehabilitation of affected region and the creation of a tsunami warning system that would prevent a repeat of the natural disaster that has so far killed over 145,000 people in south-east Asia.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan appealed for US$ 977 million to cover basic humanitarian needs for an estimated 5 million people in the next six months.

Mr Annan said we may never know how many people actually died but is likely to surpass 150,000.

About two million people, according to the Secretary-General, are in need of urgent food aid but even more so of drinking water and better sanitary conditions.

The World Health Organisation warned that if basic sanitary conditions are not restored "outbreaks of infectious disease could result in a similar number of fatalities as occurred due to the direct impact of the tsunami".

In his speech, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said a core group set up by the United States, Japan, India and Australia to coordinate tsunami relief was being disbanded—its task as a catalyst for an international response done—and folded into UN-led operations.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, President of the hardest hit country of Indonesia (almost 100,000 dead), insisted on the need to prevent such large scale disasters and called for a tsunami warning system in the Indian Ocean, similar to one long established in the Pacific.

The summit also dealt with the issues of immediate debt moratorium and better coordination of aid operations. The final declaration welcomed the initiative by several donor countries to freeze debt payments by affected countries.

Many analysts note that the international response to the crisis is not only affecting human lives but also regional diplomacy in Asia. This explains the escalating money pledges and some unusual alliances.

For example, China and Japan, which are represented in Jakarta by their respective Prime Ministers, Wen Jiabao and Junichiro Koizumi, are cooperating in relief operations.

In recent months, the two economic rivals had seen their relations become increasingly tense.

To help south-east Asia, Japan pledged US$ 500 million; China, 63.

Even North Korea, one of the poorest countries in the world, pledged US$ 150,000 in emergency relief. (MA)