Tsunami death toll may climb to 220,000  

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The Independent Online

More than 70,000 people previously listed as missing are dead, Indonesia's health ministry declared yesterday, significantly raising - but also adding confusion to - the estimated death toll from last month's tsunami.

More than 70,000 people previously listed as missing are dead, Indonesia's health ministry declared yesterday, significantly raising - but also adding confusion to - the estimated death toll from last month's tsunami.

The ministry's account brought the official number of dead in Indonesia to 166,320 and the overall toll in 11 countries to as many as 221,100, but disarray surrounded the tally, even as President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono called on government agencies to get their numbers straight.

Indonesia's social affairs ministry increased its count of the number of dead by just 261 to 114,978. The ministry still lists 12,132 people as missing.

The United Nations on Tuesday listed the number of dead worldwide at 165,493.

The conflicting figures from within the Indonesian and Sri Lankan governments has thrown the death tally from the disaster into confusion nearly four weeks after the killer waves laid waste across thousands of miles of coastlines in southern Asia and Africa.

Officials have frequently cautioned that compiling accurate figures for the dead or missing is almost impossible, and that a definitive total of dead may never be reached.

Indonesia's Foreign Minister, Hassan Wirayuda, sought to reassure donor countries that billions of dollars pledged to aid tsunami victims would not be siphoned off by corrupt officials, saying that the government had appointed the accounting firm Ernst & Young to track international donations.

Foreign governments and international agencies have pledged about $4bn (£2.1bn) in aid to the region. Indonesia, regularly listed as one the world's most corrupt countries, is expected to get the largest part.

"There is no need to be suspicious of Indonesia's management of funds," Mr Wirayuda said. "It is in our interest that the money is managed in a transparent and accountable way."

Local anti-graft activists have said they fear that about 30 percent of the aid money projected to be spent on Indonesia's recovery could be stolen, the same percentage they estimate disappears each year from the national government's budget.

Meanwhile, Japan issued a brief tsunami warning yesterday after a magnitude 6.8 earthquake struck off its eastern coast, sending a scare through the vast zone still struggling to recover from last month's disaster. Officials said, however, that the waves generated were less than a foot (30cm) high and posed little danger.

Japan's meteorological agency said the quake was centred 190 miles south of Tokyo, where it was hardly felt. There were no reports of injuries.

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