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Speed up aid, U.N. chief urges

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged world leaders on Thursday to quickly deliver some of the $4-billion in emergency funding pledged for tsunami relief, and U.N. officials expressed concern that some of the aid will never arrive.

Relief missions will require about $1-billion in the next six months for an estimated 500,000 people who were injured and 5-million who have lost housing, water or food supplies in 12 countries because of the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, which struck Dec. 26. "It is a race against time," Annan told reporters during an international summit of 26 countries and international organizations on tsunami relief and related issues.

Indonesian and U.N. officials said Thursday that they plan to establish refugee centers capable of accommodating as many as 800,000 people displaced on Sumatra island. They said the first camps would be opened within a week and have space for a total of 8,500 people.

Michael Elmquist, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Indonesia, said the largest of the camps would accommodate 4,000 refugees. But each camp could ultimately expand to 10,000 people.

Concern about delivery of the $4-billion in aid _ which includes grants, loans and five-year staggered pledges _ was based on experience. Iranian officials have complained that of the $1.1-billion in aid promised by foreign countries and organizations after a major earthquake in Bam 13 months ago, only $17.5-million has been sent. Most of the $415-million spent so far on reconstruction has come from the government.

The United States made good on its $10-million pledge in Bam, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said. "Other nations may not have" followed through.

To aid victims of the tsunami, Australia has pledged $810-million, Germany $674-million and Japan $500-million. The European Union on Thursday announced a pledge of $466-million. Even impoverished North Korea offered $150,000.

The United States has offered $350-million, in addition to a significant military rescue mission.

"Many of the pledges have come to us in cash and in kind," Annan said. "We need the rest of the pledges to be converted into cash quickly."

Of the $977-million sought by Annan, he said $229-million was needed for food and agriculture, $122-million for health care, $61-million for water and sanitation, and $222-million for shelter and other urgent non-food items. Among other activities, the "early restoration" of livelihoods would get $110-million.

Officials said 113,300 people died in Indonesia and about 160,000 in the Indian Ocean region overall. Annan said the death toll is sure to rise as less accessible areas are reached.

The World Health Organization has warned that basic needs, such as clean water, food and medicine, must be restored quickly, or 150,000 more may die from infectious disease.

Leaders at the Jakarta conference asked the United Nations to take the central coordinating role on humanitarian relief and agreed to work toward the development of a regional early warning system for tsunamis.

The United States said it was dissolving the group of six nations that initially managed the relief effort so the United Nations could begin to take overall control. But U.S. officials said relief flights by the U.S. military would continue to be managed by a U.S. general stationed at a Thailand air base.

Indonesian and U.S. officials, meanwhile, announced that the Bush administration would partly lift a ban on trade in military equipment to allow Indonesia to acquire spare parts for five C-130 Hercules aircraft. Only seven of Indonesia's 24 C-130s currently can operate because of the ban, imposed after a 1999 crackdown in East Timor, then an Indonesian province.

In 2003, the Indonesian military used U.S.-made C-130s to drop paratroops to attack rebels in Aceh province, which also suffered the greatest loss of life in the Dec. 26 tsunami. Powell acknowledged that the United States had no assurances Indonesia would use the equipment properly, but he said "the humanitarian need trumps right now the reservations we have."

Powell said at the conference that the United States would likely increase its contribution "as we understand the full dimensions of the catastrophe."

Information from the Washington Post, Associated Press and New York Times was used in this report.