World Shows Its Generosity In Storm's Wake

By Nora Boustany
Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Danish Ambassador Ulrik Andreas Federspiel , who visited New Orleans less than a month ago, says his government is offering 10 large water purification units to the U.S. government to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Denmark is one of more than 90 countries that have made offers of aid to the United States via a newly created State Department task force. U.S. officials established the task force last week to handle consular queries on expatriates trapped in disaster areas as well as to coordinate foreign pledges of assistance.

Federspiel, who is leaving Washington this month after 5 1/2 years as ambassador, said he still could not believe that the quaint and lively neighborhoods he walked through and visited, both poor and wealthy, are submerged in a maelstrom of water, destruction and ruined lives.

"America has a remarkable capacity to come out normal at the other end of crises because of the resilience of its citizens, if not the system," he said in an interview yesterday. "I am surprised at how many countries have stepped up to help. The international response has been different this time from what happened on September 11, 2001."

"What is common with the aftermath of 9/11 on the international scene is the realization that American people are also vulnerable," he said. "There are no safe havens anywhere, and no one can live alone on an island."

"Americans and Europeans think they are alike, but they are not. Americans are open, more optimistic and cannot believe they can be bad people. In Europe we are burdened by our history and know that the world is not as nice as it should be. In a sad way, Katrina may contribute to better transatlantic ties," he added.

Federspiel noted that the State Department has clarified an original perception that the United States was reluctant to receive aid. A State Department spokesman said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last week took the position that "no offer that can help alleviate the suffering . . . will be refused."

En route to her home state of Alabama on Sunday, Rice told reporters that she was gratified by the international response. "People have said that America has been so generous in times like this in other places, and now it is time to be generous to America," she said.

The task force, meanwhile, has been briefing emissaries of foreign governments on the status of rescue efforts and the conditions of stricken areas and evacuee centers. It also is tabulating various offers of humanitarian and technical relief before deciding what to accept, based on specific needs.

"We are still waiting to hear. The administration is still consulting on what to receive," Federspiel said.

Countries big and small, as well as various international organizations, have come forward to express solidarity and offer aid within their means. Thailand, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, still recovering from the Dec. 26 tsunami and other natural disasters, have pledged support. Bangladesh, which has already sent $1 million in aid, is awaiting a response to its offer to send experienced disaster management teams.

Sri Lanka is donating $25,000 to the American Red Cross. Thailand volunteered to send doctors and nurses to New Orleans. Romania offered two medical teams.

Singapore was among the first countries to respond to a request by the National Guard and sent four CH-47 Chinook helicopters based in Texas for training to Louisiana for the rescue effort.

Afghanistan has pledged $100,000 for Katrina victims; Pakistan has offered doctors and paramedics. Honduras is offering experts on flooding and sanitation, and Peru has offered to send a medical team.

Countries considered to be U.S. adversaries, such as Iran, Cuba and Venezuela, said they were prepared to channel help. Cuban President Fidel Castro said 1,100 physicians were ready to fly to Houston with 26 tons of medicine to treat victims. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said he would send fuel supplies as well as humanitarian relief. Iran said it would provide aid through its Red Crescent relief agency, affiliated with the Red Cross.

The Netherlands will send a frigate from Curacao to New Orleans to offer emergency assistance and provide teams to inspect dikes, should the United States ask for it. Many other countries -- including Britain, Belgium, the Nordic countries and China -- have also made pledges.

In addition to the $30 million in aid South Korea said it was sending, it offered a 50-person rescue team and troops, pending parliamentary approval, should the United States request them. Israel is sending 70 to 80 tons of medical equipment such as crutches and wheelchairs, long-life milk supplies, baby food, diapers and bedding materials, an embassy spokesman said.

Oil-rich Arab countries have pledged direct financial assistance to hurricane victims. Kuwait and Qatar are donating $100 million each, with Kuwait pledging an additional $400 million worth of oil products. Bahrain has pledged $5 million, and Saudi Arabia's state oil firm is donating at least $5 million.

The list of donors is growing daily.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company