UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The international response to a catastrophic tsunami in Asia has been quick and generous, a senior U.N. official said on Tuesday, playing down his earlier comments that wealthy nations were stingy.
U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland rowed back from statements he made on Monday after an annoyed Secretary of State Colin Powell said Washington was "the greatest contributor to international relief efforts in the world."
"The United States is not stingy," Powell told CNN's "American Morning" program.
Egeland, a Norwegian, pleaded at a Monday news conference for individuals and governments around the world to respond generously to the humanitarian disaster created by the tsunami that struck a broad swath of southern Asia on Sunday.
Asked about the response of rich nations to such crises, he said: "It is beyond me why are we so stingy, really."
"If actually the foreign assistance of many countries now is 0.1 or 0.2 percent of their gross national income, I think that is stingy really. I don't think that is very generous," he said.
The United Nations urged rich nations a quarter of a century ago to give away 0.7 percent of their gross domestic product every year in the form of development aid.
To date, however, just a handful of European nations, most of them in Scandinavia, actually meet that goal.
The United States, the world's largest economy, contributes about 0.13 a year of its GDP to development aid. But that figure excludes aid to Iraq and Afghanistan as well as food aid, where the United States is the world's largest donor.
"We are busting our butts to help and comments like that don't reflect what we are doing," said a State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity.