UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has appointed former U.S. President George H.W. Bush as his special envoy for South Asian earthquake disaster relief.
The 81-year old former U.S. president, and father of the current one, came to UN headquarters Thursday to discuss his new job with Secretary-General Annan.
Introducing his newly-appointed envoy to reporters, the secretary-general said Mr. Bush would lead the overall UN effort to generate aid for victims of the October eighth earthquake that devastated parts of Pakistan and India: "He will also work to mobilize and sustain the political will of the international community to ensure that we do honor the commitments we've made and the pledges that have been made are promptly converted into cash so that the recovery, reconstruction and emergency activities can continue."
The secretary-general pointed out that former President Bush and his successor in the White House, Bill Clinton, had worked both independently and together to help in coordinating relief in previous disasters.
Mr. Annan added, "I'm deeply grateful to you, Mr. President for taking on this task. I know you bring to this all your leadership, diplomatic skill and immense experience, including of course form your efforts together with President Clinton, to support the U.S. victims in the aftermath of the Hurricane Katrina as well as the Indian ocean tsunami crisis."
Mr. Bush said he and his wife, former first lady Barbara Bush, had been heartbroken over the tragedy in Pakistan. But he stressed that he would not try to fine tune the U.N. relief and reconstruction efforts that are already well underway: "Our role is to try to help get the pledges, and there have been very generous pledges made, have those converted to things that can really benefit the people that are hurting over there in terrible weather, terrible environmental conditions. I think I can help and I certainly want to try."
Mr. Bush said he plans a trip to the region in early January to assess needs.
The October earthquake killed an estimated 80,000 people, decimated villages and left millions without shelter.
The United Nations earlier this week appealed for an additional 45-million dollars to provide victims with thick blankets and proper shelter. A UN relief official in Pakistan said 90% of the 400,000 tents provided for victims were not meant for winter use, and could not protect people from freezing temperatures.