Spearheading the international effort to bring relief to the victims of last week's devastating Indian Ocean tsunami, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Thursday launched a $977 million flash appeal for emergency aid – by far the largest ever for a natural disaster and almost three times the previous record.
“As we grieve for the dead and pray for those still searching for loved ones, we have a duty to the survivors,” Mr. Annan told a meeting of world leaders in Jakarta, Indonesia, calling for a concerted effort to prevent a second wave of death from preventable causes due to polluted water, and a third wave of despair where people cannot recover their livelihoods, homes or communities.
“Although we were powerless to stop the tsunami, together we do have the power to stop those next waves,” he declared of the disaster that killed more than 150,000 people in a dozen countries, injured 500,000 more and left up to 5 million lacking basic services.
The appeal covers a six-month period for the humanitarian emergency needs of an estimated 5 million people in Indonesia, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, the Seychelles and Somalia. The previous highest flash appeal for a natural disaster was $350 million for the earthquake in Bam, Iran, a year ago, although the largest ever was $1.6 billion for Iraq following the 2003 war.
The sum is much less than the overall pledges of aid to both the UN and other organizations, for both immediate and longer-term operations such as reconstruction, which have already reached between $3 billion and $4 billion, and Mr. Annan noted that the appeal provides for a focused set of programmes that can start now.
“They must set the stage for efforts in the longer term, as we move from saving lives to recovery and reconstruction,” he said.
Sectors covered for the next six months include $229 million for food and agriculture, $172 million for health care, $61 million for water and sanitation, $222 million for shelter and other urgent non-food items, and $110 million for the early restoration of livelihoods.
Mr. Annan stressed that this is the largest natural disaster the UN has had to respond in its 60 years of existence. He noted the daunting logistical constraints but said they were not insurmountable. “It is a race against time, but together with the host Governments, we are overcoming them,” he added. “Every hour, we are seeing more goods reaching those in need.”
He praised cases of individual generosity. “Consider the six-year-old boy in Shenyang, China, who donated his life savings of $22,” he said.
“The past eleven days have been among the darkest in our lifetime,” he declared. “But they have also allowed us to see a new kind of light. We have seen the world coming together. We have seen a response based not on our differences, but on what unites us. We have seen an opportunity to heal old wounds and long-running conflicts.
“We have seen everyone pull together – North and South, East and West, Governments and citizens, the media and the military, business and religious leaders, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international institutions.
“Let us now show that we are committed for as long as it takes,” he said.