Good intentions must now be turned into reality

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The representatives of 26 nations who meet today at a summit in Jakarta to plan the next stage of the world's response to the south Asian tsunami crisis bear a heavy responsibility. International aid donations, totalling some $2bn, have been pledged. The task that now falls to the delegates of donor countries, a diverse group called together at very short notice, is to make sure this money is well spent.

The representatives of 26 nations who meet today at a summit in Jakarta to plan the next stage of the world's response to the south Asian tsunami crisis bear a heavy responsibility. International aid donations, totalling some $2bn, have been pledged. The task that now falls to the delegates of donor countries, a diverse group called together at very short notice, is to make sure this money is well spent.

The summit should make a rigid distinction between emergency aid and development aid. Both are needed, but the priority for now is still emergency aid. Millions of people across the region are desperate for food, water, shelter and medicines. Unless they receive these most basic supplies, thousands will die of disease, and the death toll from this catastrophe will grow yet higher.

The representatives of the Asian countries affected also have a responsibility. They must guarantee that everything possible will be done to ensure that aid reaches those areas where it is needed. There can be no bureaucratic hold ups, or stalling. Sri Lanka and Indonesia, in particular, must undertake not to use aid as a political weapon against insurgency movements within their borders.

When the delegates turn to broader questions of development aid they will, rightly, address the need to establish a tsunami early warning system in the Indian Ocean. Many, but not all, scientists have argued that thousands of lives could have been saved had such a system been in place. Long-term reconstruction projects must also be set up, although it is vital that any money pledged actually materialises. After the Iranian earthquake in Bam just over a year ago, Western promises of aid were shamefully broken.

Another boost to reconstruction would be to cancel the debts of developing nations ravaged by the tsunami. It makes no sense to ask countries to spend money to pay off loans to Western nations, when they could be using it to rebuild shattered resorts and villages.

The international response has so far been impressive, particularly - and perhaps unexpectedly - from the US. This summit is a timely opportunity for the world to translate its good intentions into reality.

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