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The World Health Organization is warning that Sunday’s devastating earthquake and tsunami has left as many as 5 million people homeless and at risk.
The tsunami is now believed to be one of the deadliest natural catastrophes ever recorded. Officially the death toll stands at 88,000. But the final toll is expected to top at least 100,000.
The United Nations warned on Wednesday that as many as 80,000 people may have died in just the Indonesian province of Aceh alone. In many Aceh villages, not a single building remains. The Los Angeles Times reports de facto refugee camps have sprung up in Aceh but they have almost no food or medical assistance.
Doctors fear tens of thousands more may die in the region if they do not receive emergency aid and drinkable water. In Sri Lanka, reports of measles and diarrhea have already surfaced. According to the BBC, the UN’s relief coordinator, Jan Egeland, said it will take another "two or three days" for the relief effort to get into full swing. By then he said it may be too late for "tens of thousands of people." To make matters worse, the Indian Ocean region has been shaken by at least three powerful aftershock earthquakes over the past day.
On Wednesday, President Bush announced the United States, Australia, Japan and India would lead the international response to the catastrophe. It remains unclear whether this effort will conflict with the United Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs which traditionally oversees such massive relief efforts. Bush made the announcement while on vacation in Crawford Texas. It marked his first public comment since the earthquake struck more than 72 hours earlier. During a brief press conference he announced the U.S. would send $35 billion in initial aid–however he meant to say $35 million.
The Editors at the Minneapolis Star Tribune described the Bush administration’s handling of this crisis as "inept beyond belief."
Oxfam Warns Donors May Walk Away From Disaster
Overall the world’s 30 richest nations have pledged about $250 million with Spain being the most generous offering $60 million. The World Bank has estimated as much as $15 billion will eventually be needed.
Phil Bloomer of Oxfam said "It’s clear the short and medium-term responses are underfunded. The next five to 10 days are crucial. The danger is that donors will walk away in two weeks’ time, as they have in other disasters."
Earlier in the week, UN relief coordinator Jan Egeland, accused wealthy nations of being "stingy" with foreign aid.
On Wednesday, Bush criticized Egeland by describing him as QUOTE "very ill-informed." Bush said last year the US gave out $2.4 billion in food, cash and humanitarian relief–more in dollar terms than any other country.
In terms of percentage of its national income, no modern industrialized nation gives less in humanitarian aid than the United States. Last year it shared less 1/7th of one percent or 0.14 percent of its national income.
In news from Iraq, the death toll from fighting since Monday has risen above 100. In Baghdad, 30 people died when a house exploded during a police raid. Police accused resistance fighters of setting the police up to be killed. The blast destroyed up to 10 neighboring houses.
In Mosul, US forces came under repeated attacks by Iraqi fighters in the form of car bombs and ambushes. In response, US warplanes carried out air strikes killing at least 25 Iraqis.
The Los Angeles Times reports many of the residents of Fallujah who were allowed to return home are now leaving because the city was so devastated by the US assault. One resident said, "I was born in that town. I know every inch of it. But when I got there, I didn’t recognize it." And two Lebanese businessmen were kidnapped in Baghdad overnight.
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