updated 1/11/2005 8:02:08 PM ET 2005-01-12T01:02:08

The U.N. humanitarian chief who complained after the Dec. 26 Indian Ocean tsunami that Western nations were often “stingy” said Tuesday that this year “has started better than any other ... in terms of human generosity.”

Jan Egeland also said the unprecedented outpouring of aid following the Asian tsunami should mark the end of the world’s record of giving too little, too late, to help disaster victims. Egeland was meeting with top government officials to plan how to use $4 billion in aid pledges to help 5 million tsunami survivors.

“2005 has started better than any other year in recorded history in terms of human generosity,” Egeland said, referring to both government and private donations.

“I hope this is the new standard — how the world responds to people in need. The bad past is behind us. This is the new level of compassion, solidarity, generosity.”

But the United Nations and relief organizations are concerned that sympathy for the tsunami victims will lead donors to neglect other urgent humanitarian crises in the world. Egeland said he hoped the world would pay as much attention to the millions of people afflicted by the “AIDS tsunami” or the “war tsunami.”

One meeting in Geneva will discuss how to maintain world interest in crises afflicting such places as Sudan and Burundi.

Last month, Egeland complained that wealthy nations were often “stingy,” riling Washington even though he said he was not directing his remarks at any one nation.

“We were more generous when we were less rich, many of the rich countries,” Egeland said at the time. “And it is beyond me, why are we so stingy, really.... Even Christmas time should remind many Western countries, at least, how rich we have become.”

Backing the pledges
U.N. officials said one purpose of Tuesday’s meeting was to make sure that governments muster up the cash to cover their aid pledges. About 80 countries, including those hit by the earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 150,000 people, were expected to attend.

Oxfam spokeswoman Amy Barry said countries pay, on average, only 50 percent of their pledges. Also, many countries give to one crisis by taking money from other disasters, she said.

For example, the United States delivered less than half of the $450 million in aid it promised for Afghanistan, an Oxfam statement said.

Signaling the need to keep tight tabs on the new aid money, the United Nations has announced it would accept the offer of outside accountants to track operations.

PricewaterhouseCoopers has offered its services for free to help create a financial tracking system to investigate credible allegations of fraud, waste or abuse, U.N. officials said Monday.

The $4 billion in pledges by governments, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank for tsunami victims includes not only cash for the humanitarian relief effort but also long-term development aid, reconstruction aid and loans.

Australia has pledged the most money — $810 million — followed by Germany’s $660 million. Other major donors include the European Commission with $624 million, Japan with $500 million, the United States $350 million and Norway $183 million.

The head of the U.S. delegation, Andrew Natsios, the administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, said, “We need to focus our efforts on coordination, on the logistical systems and on rapidly moving into the rehabilitation and reconstruction phases, working with the governments of the countries that we’re hosted by.”

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