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South Asia: Former U.S. President Bill Clinton calls for renewed commitment to tsunami recovery effort

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8 June 2005, New York: Following his latest trip to the tsunami affected region former U.S. President Bill Clinton said he was committed to speeding up the ongoing recovery effort. President Clinton went to the region in his capacity as UN Secretary General's Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery. In each country he met with all concerned parties -- including the government, civil society, the UN, donors and the private sector -- to assess the current status of the recovery effort.

Immediately following his return to New York, President Clinton convened a meeting at the United Nations to improve coordination among several key players in the reconstruction effort including the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, represented by President Paul Wolfowitz, the International Federation of the Red Cross, InterAction, UN agencies and representatives of the affected countries. The participants took stock of progress made almost six months after the disaster, recommitted themselves to a more coordinated approach and agreed to establish a common financial tracking system.

While meeting with leaders and tsunami survivors in the various countries he visited, President Clinton was eager to find ways to overcome roadblocks to the recovery effort.

"People are anxious to get out of their temporary housing," President Clinton said. In Aceh, Indonesia, he found many people in a camp "who feel a great deal of frustration and who are eager to be able to move out of the tents and into their own homes."

The former President noted that even after legal issues of land title ownership are resolved it will still take time to marshal the labor and materials to rebuild homes. "Everybody knows it's going to take a certain amount of time," he said. "This cannot be done overnight."

"People always want to talk about the problems or the controversies, that's perfectly legitimate," President Clinton said at a press conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka. "But let's not forget about how much has been done here. You know, you lost no children to starvation or disease. You had no mass outbreak of an epidemic as a result of the destruction of your water and sanitation facilities. You have plans now to rebuild housing on the scale the country has never experienced before."

Across the region, President Clinton said there were many positive signs of progress. After visiting a clinic in Aceh, he noted that there, too, there had been no cases of starvation or epidemics among children and that counseling was offered to people who needed it. And after discussions with Mr. Kunturo, the new Indonesian Director of reconstruction activities in Aceh, President Clinton said he received reassurances that rebuilding will be done with legally harvested or imported timber.

"I think this is very important and I will do what I can to ensure that we can find as many sources of such timber as possible, because the condition of forests is important, not just for Indonesia, but for the whole world," he noted.

In his press conference in India, President Clinton noted that "the thing that most impressed me was the effort being made to provide more options for livelihood. Women who had been involved in fishing families (are now) making incense, making candles, making little note cards with the drawings of the children."

President Clinton stressed that his discussions with leaders and civil society groups should be viewed as the beginning of the process, not the end. "I'm going to be on the job for at least two years and my primary goal, besides making sure that all the donors give the money that they're supposed to give to the affected countries, is to help solve problems and provide a forum for good ideas," he added.

For background:

President Clinton's immediate priorities as Special Envoy include:

- Keeping the world's attention focused on the tsunami recovery in order to ensure that this effort is not forgotten;

- Supporting coordination efforts at the country and global levels, in order to ensure all the actors work together efficiently and that resources are used to maximum effect;

- Promoting transparency and accountability measures to ensure that resources are used effectively while retaining the engagement of the millions of 'investors' in this operation;

- Championing a new kind of recovery, one that "builds back better" by seizing the moral, political and financial opportunities the crisis presents to set these communities on a safe and sound development path.