With the death toll from the South Asia tsunami still rising, President Bush today announced an unprecedented private fundraising drive for relief and reconstruction in the affected region to be led by former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush.
President Bush, flanked by both men during a White House announcement, said his predecessors will campaign across the country, asking Americans to donate directly to "reliable" charities already providing help in the region
They will also urge corporations to match donations to such organizations by employees, he said.
Bush said this morning that the American flag would be flown at half-staff across the country this week in memory of the tsunami's dead.
The president's gestures, combined with a promise last week of $350 million in aid, significantly elevated the profile of American efforts in the wake of one of the world's worst modern natural disasters. There is little or no historic parallel to a private charitable fundraising drive organized by a sitting president of the United States under the leadership of two former chief executives.
"This is probably the largest natural disaster to which the U.S. government has responded," said James Kunder, deputy assistant administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development. At a news briefing today, he estimated that 3 million to 5 million people have been "directly affected" by the crisis while a million have been displaced.
He said that roughly $2.1 billion has been pledged so far internationally.
Last week, Bush dispatched his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell for a quick tour of some of the countries struck by the Dec. 26 disaster, which has now claimed nearly 140,000 lives.