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IN THE NEWS - Aid for Tsunami Victims

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I'm Steve Ember with In the News in VOA Special English.

AP Photo
AP Photo

Kofi Annan says helping survivors of the earthquake and killer waves in the Indian Ocean last week is a race against time. The United Nations secretary-general says countries that have offered aid must hurry and provide it. The offers add up to around four thousand million dollars. United Nations officials say one-fourth of that is needed during the next six months.

The concern about offers of international aid is based on history. For example, the earthquake in Bam, Iran, in December of two thousand three killed more than twenty-six thousand people. Countries and groups offered hundreds of millions of dollars worth of assistance. The United Nations says it has confirmed only about seventeen million dollars in aid received so far. Governments and organizations that offered help dispute that, however.

On Thursday Mister Annan met with world leaders in Jakarta, Indonesia to discuss aid for victims of the tsunami. The leaders discussed and welcomed the idea of suspending some debt owed by affected nations. But the leaders did not say they would do so. Some said that making direct payments to survivors would be more helpful.

The top U.N. aid official, Jan Egeland, has said the number of dead will be "much bigger" than one hundred fifty thousand. The World Health Organization says about a half-million people are injured. Millions more are homeless. The W.H.O. has called for clean water along with food and medicines needed to help prevent the spread of disease.

Australia has offered eight hundred ten million dollars in aid. The European Union says it will provide four hundred sixty-six million dollars in aid. Germany, Japan and the United States follow in their amounts offered. American military forces are also providing services.

Representatives of twenty-six countries and international organizations attended the meeting in Jakarta. Officials say they will cooperate to develop a tsunami warning system for the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea.

A small group of countries including the United States began to direct aid efforts after the events of December twenty-sixth. Now American officials say the group is being suspended so the United Nations can start to take control. The earthquake measured nine on the Richter scale. The quake and resulting waves proved most deadly on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. More than one hundred thousand people are reported dead there.

On Friday, American Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed shock at the destruction caused by the earthquake and waves. The same day, Kofi Annan flew by helicopter over western Sumatra and visited Meulaboh. About four thousand bodies were discovered in that town Friday. Mister Annan said he had never seen such destruction as he saw on Sumatra. In his words, "Where are the people?"

In the News, in VOA Special English, was written by Jerilyn Watson. I'm Steve Ember.

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