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White House to Seek $950 Million for Tsunami Aid

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 10, 2005; Page A15

The Bush administration will seek $950 million in federal aid for the areas affected by the Asian tsunami, nearly tripling a previous commitment of $350 million that was announced when the administration was under fire for what critics called a sluggish response to the crisis.

U.S. citizens have provided $800 million in private donations since the disaster struck on Dec. 26, officials said. The new supplemental budget request, which appears to have bipartisan support in Congress, stemmed from detailed assessments of the long-term reconstruction and rehabilitation needs for the 12 countries affected by the tsunami, which killed more than 280,000 people and displaced 750,000.

The commitment, which U.S. officials said was the most generous humanitarian pledge in U.S. history, would put the United States at the top of the list of donors to the disaster. Australia has pledged $810 million, followed by $660 million from Germany, $624 million from the European Union and $540 million from Japan.

"We will use those resources to provide assistance and to work with the affected nations on rebuilding vital infrastructure, re-emerging economies and to strengthen their societies," said Alan P. Larson, undersecretary of state for economic, business and agricultural affairs.

More than a third of the money -- $339 million -- will be devoted to constructing roads, schools, water-distribution systems and other projects. The tsunami was caused by an earthquake off the coast of Sumatra's Aceh region, and officials said many bridges and roads through Aceh were destroyed even before the waves wiped out coastal areas.

An additional $168 million will be aimed at helping victims get back to ordinary life, such as providing funds for food and housing. The administration also budgeted $35 million for tsunami warning systems.

Some of the new aid may help fund debt relief for some of the affected countries, officials said, as well as reimburse the Defense Department for the use of 26 ships, 43 fixed-wing aircraft and 16,000 military personnel in the early days of the crisis, officials said. At a White House briefing, Larson said the specifics still needed to be worked out and the allocation of the $950 million would be adjusted depending on the decisions on debt relief.

A three-month moratorium on debt payments by affected countries -- who owe more than $270 billion -- was announced by major creditor nations after the disaster struck.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz told reporters the U.S. military delivered about 10 million pounds of food and 400,000 gallons of water during the rescue operations, and military hospital ships treated almost 2,500 injured.

Wolfowitz, a former ambassador to Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, said the relief effort was linked to the administration's long-term goal of promoting democracy in the Muslim world. "This challenge comes to a country that stands to be in the forefront of that movement," he said. "Above and beyond the humanitarian considerations, which would be compelling enough, we have an enormous interest in seeing this succeed."

The announcement came a week before a high-level delegation, headed by former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, goes to the region at the White House's request.

The State Department estimated this week that 33 Americans were killed or presumed dead in the tsunami, in either Thailand or Sri Lanka.

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