Powell: Tsunami Aid Must Be Long-Term

Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday the United States should plan to provide long-term aid to Indian Ocean countries battered by last month’s tsunami as efforts begin to shift from saving lives to rebuilding communities.

Powell said he would recommend to President Bush “that we stay engaged, that this is a long-term prospect, that we use our money not just for immediate humanitarian relief but for economic assistance for infrastructure development.”

“There should be no illusion as to how long it’s going to take to rebuild these communities,” he told ABC’s “This Week.”

He said U.S. military operations in the region to help victims could start winding down in the next several weeks.

“The ships can’t stay on station forever because there are other requirements and missions,” Powell said in a series of television interviews from Nairobi, Kenya, where he attended the signing of a peace deal for Sudan,

Powell said the reopening of roads would allow vehicles operated by international relief organizations to replace U.S. military helicopters in delivering food and water to victims.

Lawmakers and congressional aides said they expected the Bush administration to increase its $350 million financial commitment to the region — by as much as threefold to nearly $1 billion — in an emergency budget request to be submitted to Congress in late January or February.

The United States will assess over time how much extra financial help the countries will need, Powell and administration officials say.

“What we have to do is to make sure that we’re providing assistance based on what is needed and providing money based on what is needed, not just flooding all of these places and accounts with supplies that may not be needed, or financial assistance that may not be required yet,” Powell said.

Bush was criticized for his initial reaction to the catastrophe when he pledged $15 million in U.S. government assistance to help victims of the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami that left more than 150,000 people dead and millions homeless in 13 countries around the Indian Ocean.

Some critics pointed out that this was less than half what will be spent on his inauguration.

The U.S. pledge has since risen to $350 million, an amount Bush now describes as an initial commitment.

The emergency budget request for tsunami relief is expected to include extra funding to cover the cost of operating the Pentagon’s military assets in the region — estimated at $5 million to $6 million a day.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican fresh from a visit to the region, said needs must be monitored to determine if more money is needed.

“Indeed, the United States Congress, the president of the United States, has shown a willingness to adjust that according to the assessment,” Frist said.

Bush will receive a briefing at the White House Monday on U.S. assistance to the region. He will then meet with U.S. officials in charge of overseeing the aid operation.

Last week, he enlisted former Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton to lead a nationwide appeal for assistance from the American public for the millions left homeless by the earthquake and tsunami.