GENEVA, Jan 14 (AFP): The World Trade Organisation Thursday urged its member states to consider opening up their markets to imports from countries hit by the deadly tsunami in the Indian Ocean last month
The Geneva-based WTO said its Director General, Supachai Panitchpakdi, wrote to the 148 trading nations to ask them to think "deeply and expeditiously" about ways in which they could adapt their trade policy.
"Obvious possible areas which occur to me and no doubt others will be market access and some restraint in use of trade remedies," Supachai said in the letter.
The global trade chief comes from Thailand, one of the countries affected when tidal waves crashed into coastal areas around the Indian Ocean on December 26, causing huge devastation and killing at least 163,000 people.
Supachai also said trading nations could help in the longer term by pressing ahead with global trade talks, which are primarily meant to help developing nations by lifting barriers in new trade areas such as agriculture.
"Although we are not involved in humanitarian assistance or disaster relief, clearly we can make a major contribution to the economies of the affected countries (and others) by pressing on with and concluding the Doha Development Agenda as soon as possible," he wrote.
Sri Lanka, one of the hardest hit countries, is trying to secure concessions from the United States and the European Union to help its clothing exports following the tsunami.
Sri Lanka's ambassador in Geneva, Gomi Senadhire, told AFP that his government would be writing to the EU's Commission to ask it to lift customs duties on clothing from the country for about three months.
"We are also in the process of appealing to the US," he added.
"We need resources to rebuild our economy. What is better than trade?" Senadhire said.
Although Sri Lanka's textiles industry had not been directly affected by the catastrophe, the tourism industry had been widely devastated and the country's economy needed a boost, he explained.
On top of a death toll of more than 30,000 in Sri Lanka, the tsunami caused an estimated three billion dollars of damage, according to authorities.
In 2003, Sri Lankan companies paid nearly 220 million dollars in customs duties in the United States.
Meanwhile, health officials plan to go door to door and tent to tent with mosquito-killing spray guns beginning Friday to head off a looming threat that one expert says could kill 100,000 more people around the tsunami disaster zone: malaria.
The devastation and heavy rains are creating conditions for the largest area of mosquito breeding sites Indonesia has ever seen, said the head of the aid group anchoring the anti-malaria campaign on Sumatra island. The pools of salt water created by the Dec. 26 tsunami have been diluted by seasonal rains into a brackish water that mosquitos love.
While the threat of cholera and dysentery outbreaks is diminishing by the day because clean water is increasingly getting to tsunami survivors, the danger of malaria and dengue fever epidemics is increasing, said Richard Allan, director of the Mentor Initiative, a public health group that fights malaria epidemics.
The death toll from the earthquake and tsunami has topped 157,000 across 11 countries after Indonesia added nearly 4,000 more to its tally. Allan warned that an outbreak of malaria could take an additional 100,000 lives around the Indian Ocean if authorities don't act quickly.
"The combination of the tsunami and the rains are creating the largest single set of (mosquito) breeding sites that Indonesia has ever seen in its history," he said Thursday in an interview with The Associated Press.
Asked about World Health Organisation warnings that disease could double the tsunami death toll across affected areas, Allan said: "If anything, I think they are being conservative. Three-quarters of those deaths could be from malaria."
The World Health Organisation said Thursday that seven cases of malaria have been confirmed in Aceh province. They are popping up now both because malaria season is just beginning and because a reporting system has been put in place over the last few days.
Relief workers in Aceh province on Sumatra island, meanwhile, warned that new rules requiring them to travel with armed escorts could cause bottlenecks in delivering aid and compromise their arms-length status from Indonesia's military.
"We discourage such actions because it blurs the distinction between humanitarian and military efforts here," said Eileen Burke of Save the Children.
Burke said her group has so far had no escorts - or problems - with their work in Sigli, about 60 miles from the provincial capital, Banda Aceh.
Rebels who have waged a low-level war for a separate homeland in northern Sumatra for 30 years reaffirmed their commitment to a cease-fire they declared hours after the tsunami.
Still, there have been unconfirmed reports of isolated skirmishes between Indonesian soldiers and rebels since the tsunami.