- The Washington Times - Friday, January 7, 2005

Nations will continue to control their own donations to tsunami victims, with the U.N. role as overall aid coordinator limited to keeping tabs on nearly $1 billion in aid over the next six months, U.S. and U.N. officials said yesterday.

The Bush administration, conscious of the massive embezzlement in the U.N.-run oil-for-food program in prewar Iraq, was quick to emphasize that the world body will not be in a position to divert aid.

“We are not making the U.N. head of a corporation called Tsunami Relief,” one U.S. official said. “Kofi Annan is not asking for a blank check written to the U.N.”

U.N. employees will chair meetings on the relief efforts, but representatives of the donor nations will be at the table and no decisions will be made without their consent, said the official, who asked not to be named.

The U.N.-led initiative, called a “flash appeal,” would direct $977 million in aid over the next six months, about half for food, shelter and health.

About $372 million would go to Indonesia and $167 million to Sri Lanka, the two most devastated nations.

More than $4 billion has been pledged by countries and international organizations such as the World Bank.

The United States and most other countries will continue to give direct aid to U.N. agencies, such as the World Food Program and UNICEF, the official added, but they are much smaller bureaucracies and easier to monitor for transparency and accountability.

Jan Egeland, the U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, promised yesterday that the United Nations will be a responsible coordinator of the relief effort, which is the largest in history.

“The U.N. [agencies] will account for every penny spent and however we’ve used every resource provided to us,” Mr. Egeland told reporters in New York.

He said that more than 40 agencies with hundreds of employees are in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, India and other affected countries.

Bush administration officials, meanwhile, discouraged parallels between the tsunami relief effort and the oil-for-food program, from which Saddam Hussein siphoned an estimated $20 billion.

“As far as disbursement of assistance and future coordination of assistance and those involved in providing the assistance, I take issue with the suggestion that it’s either being outsourced or that there is some new cause for concern or caution or whatever,” State Department spokesman Adam Ereli told reporters.

He said the “core group” of donors that the United States assembled immediately after the Dec. 26 Indian Ocean tsunami — including Australia, Japan, India, and later Canada and the Netherlands — was disbanded yesterday after fulfilling its limited purpose.

The group was created to respond quickly to the immediate needs of the disaster victims, which the large U.N. bureaucracy would have taken longer to do.

“One of the very important functions of the core group was in the immediate aftermath of this crisis to help set up and organize the relief effort,” Mr. Ereli said. “They’ve done that.”

Now that a truly coordinated global effort is necessary, it is time for the United Nations to take charge, he said.

“As we move forward into the medium- and longer-term relief and rehabilitation and recovery phase, given the nature of the assistance, given the nature of the programs, given the nature of the needs, the U.N. is an appropriate and able organization to take things over,” he said.

Both U.S. and U.N. officials expressed satisfaction with what has been accomplished so far, but few think the close relationship forged in the disaster relief effort will purge mutual suspicions and lingering resentments rising from the oil-for-food program and persistent U.N. criticism of the United States.

“No one wants to look churlish when people are dying,” one U.S. official said.

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