updated 12/19/2005 8:36:09 AM ET 2005-12-19T13:36:09

The tsunami that swept across the Indian Ocean generated an unprecedented outpouring of aid that should become become the new standard for humanitarian disasters, the U.N. humanitarian chief says.

Jan Egeland said a record 90 countries — many of them poor — contributed to the relief effort along with militaries from 36 nations and 500 non-governmental organizations from around the world.

“I think the world was great in the tsunami,” he said in an interview Friday. “It did exactly the right thing in the tsunami.”

He said donors — governments, businesses and individuals — pledged about $12 billion to rebuild devastated coastal communities from Southeast Asia to Africa.

While he praised the emergency relief, he said reconstruction was taking more time than the United Nations had hoped.

A series of independent evaluations have concluded “that we were more effective in the emergency relief phase than we feared we would be, given the scale of the challenge,” he said.

“People got emergency shelter. They got food. They got health facilities. They even got primary school very quickly. However, it took more time to rebuild than we had hoped,” Egeland said.

At least 216,000 dead
The Dec. 26 tidal waves, triggered by an earthquake off Indonesia, left at least 216,000 people dead or missing in 12 countries.

The U.N. officials say rebuilding Aceh province, which was engulfed in conflict at the time has been slowed by lands rights disputes, poor coordination and unclear policies. This has forced nearly 150,000 survivors to live in tents and other emergency shelters.

“I think people are frustrated in Aceh as they are in many other places because they ... they still have a pretty miserable life,” Egeland said. “Their livelihood is not restored. Their village is not restored. They very often live with relatives or in a tent.”

Egeland said everyone involved in reconstruction has to redouble their efforts and follow the goal set by former President Clinton, the U.N. envoy for tsunami relief, to “build back better.”

Egeland said the $12 billion is enough to rebuild, with money from national parliaments, but some organizations have less money than others and work needs to be redistributed to ensure the funds are used effectively.

“If we do that ... everybody will have their home restored and their future rebuilt,” he said.

The tsunami showed that “there are now 30, 40, 50 rich countries” that can be tapped for funds, not just the traditional 15 donors, he said.

Egeland said the tsunami also spurred the humanitarian community — the United Nations, non-governmental organizations, and the Red Cross and Red Crescent — to coordinate their efforts more effectively than ever before.

If another tsunami struck, and it wasn’t just after Christmas with millions glued to their televisions, would the world respond the same way?

“I hope they would,” Egeland said. “I always feel that this should be our new standard. However, it was a unique response.”

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