Promises of aid fail to materialise

Thalif Deen

When UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was asked about the sluggish flow of concrete aid to tsunami-affected countries more than three months after the massive devastation, he told reporters: “Pledges are good, but cash is better.” So far, about $6.7 billion have been promised for tsunami relief by donor countries, private individuals and corporations, of which about $5.8 billion have been pledged by 92 governments. Such generosity had never been recorded in the history of the UN,” UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland told reporters last week. But of the pledged amount, only about $2.5 billion have been “recorded as committed or paid up.” The problem, Egeland says, is “to convert pledges into cash commitments.” The secretary-general reinforced Egeland’s complaint when he told reporters Monday at the Oslo donor conference for Sudan: “And that is why we are appealing to governments to give us as much liquid cash as possible.”

Rick Augsburger, emergency response programme director at the global humanitarian agency Church World Service (CWS), told IPS that some donors weigh risks and vulnerabilities before pledges are honoured. He admits that pledges are not all in, “but that’s not a reason to deduce they won’t be honoured. Some pledges are tied to policy about reconstruction.” Asked about Annan’s request for cash, Augsburger said: “It’s true that we can’t build a house on a pledge.” Annan said that very often, it does take a long time to transform pledges into cash. “And perhaps we, also at the UN, should become a bit more aggressive in following up with governments, maybe sending people out to try and remind them to make good on their pledges, or periodically issuing reports as to who offered what and who has paid what,” he added.

Former United States President Bill Clinton, currently the UN special envoy for tsunami recovery, told a UN news conference Wednesday, “More than three months after the tsunami killed an estimated 30,000 people, the challenge is not just to rebuild communities, but to rebuild them better.” He said: “We don’t know whether donor fatigue has set in, and whether commitments aren’t being kept, until we have national plans.” Clinton also said there are

“lots of NGOs that have enormous amounts of money. “I mean the Red Cross has got a staggering amount of money. And you can’t really expect them to spend it until there’s a plan on which they can spend it,” he added. Standing beside Clinton, Annan told reporters: “I rely on him to make sure that donors not only pledge but disburse the money needed for recovery and reconstruction, and that it actually reaches the communities who need it most.” Last week, the New York Times reported that recovery has been exceedingly slow in Aceh province in Indonesia, where nearly 126,000 died in the tsunami disaster.

Stephen Greene, interim media director of Oxfam America told IPS that just as important as the amount of aid forthcoming, however, is that it be used as effectively as possible. Augsberger said that CWS remains actively focused on water and sanitation needs in Aceh Province. He says that CWS is also now focusing on the non-bricks-and-mortar aspects of recovery: livelihoods assistance, civil strengthening programmes, capacity building, disaster management and preparedness training, and closer coordination with local NGOs and community-based organisations operating in the area. That middle-term emergency programme, he said, is expected to continue into much of 2006. — IPS