BOMBAY, India – Departing from India's (search) long-standing policy of refusing outside aid, the finance minister on Friday said the government would consider international assistance for reconstruction of the tsunami-devastated south.
Minister P. Chidambaram (search) said the massive scale of the disaster made it necessary for India to consider foreign aid in dealing with long-term rebuilding and rehabilitation.
"India has been accused of adopting an isolationist stand and of not accepting foreign aid," he said. "This is not true. When a tragedy like this happens, relief is the first stage and rehabilitation is the second."
Chidambaram said India is fully capable of providing short-term emergency aid to its citizens but needs help with the more expensive reconstruction stage.
"We believe we are a large enough country to provide relief to our country and we even have provided relief to Sri Lanka (search) and the Maldives," he said. "However, long-term rehabilitation and reconstruction require massive investments."
India has recorded nearly 10,000 deaths from the tsunami that pounded shorelines on Dec. 26 in its southern states and the outlying Andaman and Nicobar islands. Some 6,000 people are missing and presumed dead, mainly in the island territories.
Indian relief efforts in those areas did not include assistance from foreign organizations. Several had asked for permission from New Delhi to go to the devastated island areas, but just a handful of exceptions were made, such as a UNICEF vaccination program in relief camps in the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago.
International aid organizations such as Oxfam have criticized India's go-it-alone aid operation, saying it would lead to more death and suffering.
Delhi's refusal mirrored the determination of past Indian governments to avoid international aid in disasters. However, that policy has been waived in extreme cases: When an earthquake killed 13,000 people in the western state of Gujarat four years ago, India welcomed rescue teams from other countries.