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UN Warns Tsunami Death Toll Could Double

By Dean Yates and Achmad Sukarsono

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (Reuters) - The United Nations warned on Wednesday Asia's tsunami death toll could double to about 300,000 unless survivors received clean water and other basic services by the end of the week to prevent disease.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, in Indonesia for an emergency international aid summit on Thursday, flew over the worst scenes of devastation and said it was more horrifying than wars he had witnessed during decades as a soldier.

Australia and Germany pledged more than $1 billion in aid, raising the U.N.'s global tally to nearly $3.7 billion, and a debt relief initiative by rich nations gathered momentum. The World Health Organization (WHO) said it had sent emergency treatment to the region for diarrheal diseases such as cholera and dysentery but while the aid was reaching many locations, access to safe drinking water remained inadequate.

"If basic needs ... are not urgently restored to all populations by the end of this week, WHO fears that outbreaks of infectious disease could result in a similar number of fatalities as occurred due to the direct impact of the tsunami," the U.N. agency said in a statement on the Internet.

After getting a bird's-eye view of the battered northwest coastline of Indonesia's Sumatra island, Powell promised Washington would send more helicopters, food and clean water to isolated survivors of the tsunami.


"I have been in war and I have been through a number of hurricanes, tornadoes and other relief operations, but I have never seen anything like this," said America's former top soldier.

Powell, 67, served two combat tours in Vietnam during a 35-year military career that ended with his service as the country's military chief.

"I cannot begin to imagine the horror that went through families and all of the people who heard this noise coming and then had their lives snuffed out by this wave," he said.

About two-thirds of the U.N. estimated 150,000 dead from the tsunami were killed in Aceh province on Sumatra.

At an orphanage in southern India, 15-year-old Sitha, her sister Sitha Lakshmi, 10, and 8-year-old brother Amitha grappled with the loss of their parents.

"I'm the head of the family now," Sitha said, holding back tears. "I ha all those killed by the tsunami, died in Aceh province on Sumatra.

President Bush, criticized in some quarters for what was seen as a slow and stingy initial U.S. response to the disaster, has contributed $10,000 himself for aid efforts, the White House said.

U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland praised Washington for doubling the number of helicopters it was contributing to relief efforts to about 90, saying the craft were the best way of overcoming washed away roads and bridges.

Egeland called on governments and rebel groups in the region not to wreck aid efforts by resuming conflicts.

"We need that cease-fire, that peace, to hold because if new conflict breaks out, we cannot help the people," he said.

Egeland said peace prevailed in Aceh, there was a cease-fire in Sri Lankan areas where the Tamil Tigers had previously been active and warlords were not fighting in "the better part of Somalia." The African state was a distant tsunami victim.

After his helicopter tour, Powell left for Jakarta where U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and other world leaders were arriving for the international relief summit for tsunami-hit Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, Maldives and Malaysia.


Annan called on world leaders to honor their pledges of aid, saying it should be "fresh and additional money, not robbing Peter to pay Paul, pulling it from other crises."

A draft joint summit declaration, seen by Reuters, welcomed debt relief for tsunami-hit countries and supported an early warning system.

The document, circulated among the 26 nations and groups attending the summit, called on the United Nations to mobilize the international community and called for stronger coordination and cooperation of relief efforts.

In Europe, people from Riga to Rome observed three minutes of silence to remember the dead, who included several thousand tourists, many of them Europeans.

Public buildings in Europe flew flags at half mast, stock exchanges fell silent, crowded railway stations came to a standstill and television and radio stations broadcast solemn music in memory of the victims.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said he believed the Group of Seven industrialized nations would be able to agree on debt relief for Sri Lanka and Indonesia, both of which suffered most from the Dec. 26 disaster.

Japan joined other G7 members Britain, the United States, Canada and France in supporting a debt payment moratorium, which will be discussed in Jakarta and also at a meeting next Wednesday of the Paris Club of creditor nations.

Germany raised its aid to tsunami-hit countries to 500 million euros ($680.2 million) from 20 million euros previously, while Australian Prime Minister John Howard pledged A$1.0 billion (US$765 million) over five years to Indonesia.

Indonesia said half a million people were homeless in Aceh, where the hungry scavenged for food and water and injured people flooded hospitals.

U.N. officials said they were worried orphaned or lost children might fall prey to criminal gangs bent on selling them into slavery.

Children make up a third of the tsunami dead and tens of thousands more have been orphaned.

At an orphanage in southern India, 15-year-old Sitha, her sister Sitha Lakshmi, 10, and 8-year-old brother Amitha grappled with the loss of their parents.

"I'm the head of the family now," Sitha said, holding back tears. "I have to look after them. Mummy wanted them to get educated and I have to make that happen now."

In one rare good luck tale, a cargo ship rescued an Aceh man who spent eight days floating in the sea on an uprooted tree, living largely off coconuts and rain. (For more news on emergency relief from Reuters AlertNet visit http://www.alertnet.org email: alertnet+reuters.com)
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yeah that's definatly brutal news.
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