SR260 Million Donated In Telethon

RIYADH/JAKARTA, 7 January 2005 — A Saudi telethon launched yesterday to mobilize relief aid for victims of the Asian tsunami disaster collected more than SR260 million till the time of going to press, including an SR20 million donation from Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Fahd. Crown Prince Abdullah pledged SR10 million while Prince Sultan, second deputy premier and minister of defense and aviation, gave SR5 million.

The successful Saudi telethon came as world leaders meeting in Jakarta vowed yesterday to work together to help victims of the most wide-reaching natural disaster in living memory as UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan declared they were in a “race against time”.

Jeddah-based Islamic Development Bank announced a $500 million relief aid at the meeting.

Overwhelmed by the spontaneous response to the telethon, one young Saudi remarked: “We Saudis are known for our generosity but we don’t make a song and dance about it… We do it very quietly.”

The donations, which included SR25 million from Saudi Oger company, were announced by Saudi Television Channel I. The telethon received substantial response from both Saudis and expatriates as a large number of people including children were also seen lining up outside the television center and at the Malaz Stadium donation center in the capital to deposit their donations in cash and kind. More than seven trucks and 66 cars lined up outside the stadium with donated clothes, milk, rice, dates and other materials.

Riyadh Governor Prince Salman, who is supervising the campaign, emphasized the importance of helping people in need as instructed by Islamic teachings. He urged citizens to be generous in the telethon organized by the state-run television after the government tripled its initial pledge to $30 million early this week.

People wishing to contribute to the tsunami fund were asked to call the information center to enlist their donation or deposit their donations at certain designated areas.

A group of Islamic scholars also urged the viewers to donate generously, while sitting in the studio of the Saudi television. In an appeal carried by the Saudi Press Agency, King Fahd urged Saudis and expatriates to cooperate with the campaign to make it a success. The fund will be used to meet the essential requirements of the tsunami victims, who are in need of assistance. Prominent contributors until yesterday evening included National Commercial Bank, which donated SR3 million and Riyad Bank (SR2 million). About 180,000 people died in the Dec. 26 tsunami, which struck the coasts of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and other Indian Ocean countries.

Indonesians, Indians and Sri Lankans are among seven million foreigners who work in Saudi Arabia. More than 10 million foreigners including Indians, Indonesians and Sri Lankans work in the Gulf.

Amid warnings from health officials that disease could significantly increase the death toll, Kofi Annan urged countries that have pledged more than $4 billion in aid to come forward immediately with nearly a billion dollars in cash.

Annan’s appeal, delivered at the emergency international aid summit in the Indonesian capital Jakarta, followed an assessment by the World Health Organization that survivors could succumb to cholera and dysentery unless they received clean water and other basic services by the end of the week.

At the one-day summit, world leaders welcomed debt relief for countries hit by the disaster and backed the creation of an Indian Ocean early tsunami warning system which could save lives in the future.

Annan appealed at the summit for $977 million to cover basic needs for an estimated 5 million people in the next six months.

“What happened on Dec. 26, 2004, was an unprecedented global catastrophe. It requires an unprecedented global response … It is a race against time,” he said.

Governments around the world have pledged more than $4 billion in aid so far and private groups, corporations and individuals another $660 million.

The money will go toward helping survivors of the strongest earthquake in 40 years and the tsunami it spawned. Many of them lost everything they had, but with nowhere else to go, some survivors were tentatively creeping back into their wrecked villages.

“I am scared. I am scared tsunami will come again and kill us,” said Dana Lakshmi in a seaside village in south India.

“But we have to get on with our lives. Sometimes, I am lost. I wonder if we will live like this forever, if we will ever rebuild our home.” Much of the aid will flow to Indonesia, which suffered almost two-thirds of those killed.

At the United Nations, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland said aid efforts were increasingly focusing on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, and the isolated provinces of Aceh and Sumatra at its northern tip.

As many as a million people may have lived in the area before it was struck by tsunami, but it was difficult to say how many remained because many survivors had fled to the the hilly and heavily forested interiors, Egeland said.

“I do not think we are even close to having any figures as to how many people have died, how many are missing, how many have been severely affected,” he told reporters.

In Aceh’s devastated capital Banda Aceh, shopkeepers and restaurant owners reopened for business yesterday, despite fresh aftershocks that interrupted the daily hunt by survivors for clean water and food.

In a declaration at the end of the Jakarta summit, the delegates of 26 nations and groups welcomed debt relief for tsunami-hit countries and supported creation of an early warning system similar to one set up in the Pacific.

They also called for stronger coordination of relief efforts and asked the United Nations “to convene an international pledging conference for the sustainability of humanitarian relief efforts”.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Japan, with its “countless experiences” with earthquakes and tsunamis, was willing to freeze debt payments for affected countries and called on others to do the same.

In Edinburgh, British finance minister Gordon Brown said the Group of Seven rich industrial countries and the Paris Club of creditor nations must stand ready to consider all options.

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