The death toll stood at about 160,000 early today.
JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) -- With health officials warning that the death toll of about 160,000 from last month's tsunami could jump sharply without a continual supply of aid, world leaders struggled Thursday to figure out the best way to help victims -- and to prevent such a catastrophe from happening again.
Donors concluded a one-day emergency summit as relief workers scrambled to move aid to areas of Sumatra, the Indonesian island hit hardest by the earthquake and giant waves that crashed ashore Dec. 26. Volunteers hurled sacks of rice and instant noodles into trucks as U.S. helicopters loaded with other supplies buzzed overhead en route to isolated communities.
A new potential danger emerged, this time to the American and Australian military teams assisting the tsunami survivors. A radical Islamic group once headed by an Al-Qaida-linked terror chief set up a relief camp in Sumatra. The militants, known for attacking Christians on Indonesia's far-flung islands, insisted they would not interfere with foreign troops -- so long as they kept to humanitarian operations.
Money into food
In the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, world leaders discussed how to transform one of the largest aid packages ever assembled -- nearly $4 billion in pledges -- into food for the hungry and shelter for the homeless. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged nations to come forward immediately with the billions they've promised and to break with past practices of promising much and delivering little.
"The disaster was so brutal, so quick, and so far-reaching, that we are still struggling to comprehend it," Annan said. "We will never know the exact magnitude of how many men, women and children perished on 26 December."
Australia leads the world with a total aid pledge of $810 million, followed by Germany, Japan and the United States.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said America would take a wait-and-see attitude before pledging more cash. "These are not insignificant numbers," Powell told reporters.
Japan hinted it might offer more help for those hit in the disaster that ravaged 11 countries -- including Sri Lanka, India and Thailand. Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura said the $500 million Japan already pledged "was on the small side."
Clean water needed
The World Health Organization said that if basic needs -- particularly access to safe drinking water -- were not restored by week's end, infectious diseases could kill tens of thousands. The confirmed death toll stands at about 160,000. Indonesia announced early today it had almost 20,000 new deaths.
U.N. humanitarian chief Jan Egeland said hundreds of thousands of survivors who fled the coast in Sumatra could be living in around 200 makeshift camps in the forests and the hills. Until they are interviewed about missing friends and relatives, he said, the true death toll would not be known.
"I think we have to be aware that very, very many of the victims have been swept away and many, many will not reappear. The 150,000 dead figure is a very low figure. It will be much bigger," Egeland said before the toll increased.
Epidemics could claim many more lives.
"We now estimate that as many as 150,000 people are at extreme risk if a major disease outbreak in the affected areas occurs," said WHO Director-General Dr. Lee Jong-wook.
For the moment, though, the threat of an outbreak of waterborne disease is being held in check by medical aid flooding into the region, U.N. officials said.
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