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EU Orchestrates Giant Aid Effort For Tidal Wave Victims

EU Orchestrates Major Aid

Effort For Tidal Wave Victims

Brussels, Aurore Lester-Smith
Indian Ocean earthquakes and tidal waves struck South East Asia on December 26 in the biggest natural disaster in recent human history. With a current death toll of 128,000, countless missing and over 5 million displaced and homeless, reconstruction will cost billions. Aftershocks and rumours of new Tsunami exacerbate mounting tension among the devastated populations who now face food, water and medicine shortages, starvation or disease and, in some areas rains and floods. Children are the most cruelly hit numbering 40% of the dead.

Ugly political horseplay has marred the otherwise overwhelming generous response as superpowers have sought to settle old scores with international organisations and fought for the limelight. But individual donors around the world rallied support overwhelming charities with the rush of donations; in some countries exceeding national government donations. Praising the public for their generosity Jan Egeland Director of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said: "More than 40 countries have pledged support. International compassion has never been like this."  Between politicians and aid agencies one thing is agreed, that speedy delivery of effective aid is a matter of life and death.

Luxemburg starts its rotating EU presidency in fifth gear. Day one, January 1, saw Prime Minister Jean Claude Juncker dispatch his Development minister to Colombo on a fact-finding mission post haste.  Luxemburg had in any case been facing a challenging agenda with crucial EU Constitution referenda and elections in several member states of a newly enlarged Union.  But the leader of the Grand Duchy made stressed that an integral part of his strategy now included maintaining permanent contacts with partner states and the Tsunami regions so that EU relief targeted the neediest victims of the catastrophe. Ministerial links have been established at EU and international level including the US. A flurry of specialist working groups and high level expert meetings are underway, in Geneva with the World Health Organisation, to name but one. On January 6 Luxemburg will represent the EU at the emergency South East Asia summit in Jakarta. The Grand Duchy has convened a special Council of Ministers for the 25 on January 7 in Brussels.  The eleventh time this tiny nation of bankers presides over Europe, it is likely to need every bit of its past experience to confront the challenges of the coming six months.

Presiding of EU humanitarian affairs is Luxemburg's Development minister Jean Louis Schiltz who was joined on his fact-finding mission to South East Asia by his Commission counterpart, EU Development and humanitarian aid Commissioner Louis Michel. Speaking at a Press conference in Brussels on New Year's Eve Michel reiterated Mr. Junker's concerns: "It is essential to move as speedily as possible to the rehabilitation and reconstruction phase." He said experience from other disasters (Hurricane Mitch in 1997, the Bam earthquake in 2003) showed that humanitarian aid may arrive fast, but that delivery of follow-up rehabilitation and reconstruction was often too slow.  The Grand Duchy is expected to raise the issue at the Brussels Council on the 7th.

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(le dimanche 2 janvier 2005.)
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