Tsunami summit plans aid cash action

Last updated at 08:28 06 January 2005

World leaders are attempting to put billions of dollars in aid pledged for survivors of the Asia tsunami to work today as Kofi Annan warned that the death toll could double without quick action to prevent disease.

The UN Secretary-General appealed at the summit in the Indonesian capital Jakarta for $979 million to be promised to specific projects, covering basic humanitarian needs for an estimated 5 million people in the next six months.

"What happened on 26 December, 2004 was an unprecedented, global catastrophe. It requires an unprecedented, global response," he said, calling it the largest natural disaster the world body had faced.

Governments around the world have pledged $3.7 billion in aid so far and private groups, corporations and individuals another $630 million.

Aid workers have yet to reach large parts of Aceh, a province of 4 million people on the northern tip of Indonesia's Sumatra island, because the gargantuan waves destroyed roads, bridges and ports.

They fear the overall death toll, now around 145,000 from the strongest earthquake in 40 years and the tsunami it spawned, could climb higher when they do get to these parts.

The summit in Indonesia, focusing on longer-term aid now that the global relief effort is in full swing, was also set to endorse debt relief to help nations rebuild, and back a warning system to save lives in the future.

It opened amid extraordinary security with a minute of silence for the victims.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned before the summit that access to safe drinking water remained inadequate, encouraging diarrhoeal diseases such as cholera and dysentery.

Annan said the catastrophe was "like a nightmare from which we are still hoping to awaken".

It was all too real for millions in 13 affected countries and for tens of thousands of relatives of foreign tourists from 40 countries who are dead or missing following the disaster.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw joined US Secretary of State Colin Powell, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and a score of other leaders at the summit.

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