- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 13, 2005

In kind, unkind

We’re getting into that period of disaster recovery when good intentions are tested.

Last Tuesday, Margareta Wahlstrom, the U.N. liaison for tsunami donations, said pledges had still not turned into cash, and relief coffers contained far less than the $977 million initially pledged. By Wednesday, Washington nearly tripled its pledge to $950 million. This put the U.S. government at the top of a donors’ list that includes Australia ($810 million), Germany ($660 million), the European Commission ($624 million) and Japan ($540 million).

The U.S. Agency for International Development said last week that the United States had delivered $119 million of the $350 million previously pledged.

Meanwhile, coordinators also are having difficulties with in-kind donations — that is to say, goods and services

The tsunami triggered an outpouring of gifts from around the world, but some of the in-kind donations are of dubious use. Volunteers at sorting centers in tropical Sri Lanka are mystified by the winter parkas, high-heeled shoes and expired medicine that have flooded in from donors who are perhaps inattentive — or, more likely, eager for tax writeoffs.

“We don’t mean to be ungrateful, but it would be appreciated if people take a little more care before just unloading their basements and garages,” Sri Lankan aid official Himali Fernando told the Associated Press.

Humanitarian groups have long complained that such thoughtless donations, which have plagued every modern disaster-relief effort, divert time and resources from distributing needed supplies

Meanwhile, the tsunami death toll surged last week, because many of the missing were listed as dead.

Indonesia said yesterday that the number of its people dead and missing since the Dec. 26 earthquake-generated monster sea wave had reached 233,689.

The other two hardest-hit countries also are revising their estimates.

Sri Lankan officials say the death toll in their country is 31,000 to 38,000, with nearly 5,000 missing. India reports 10,700 dead and 5,600 missing.

Few relief experts expect the missing to turn up alive in substantial numbers seven weeks after the disaster.

Council revamp

At an African Union meeting in Swaziland tomorrow, delegates from 15 top member countries will again try to choose which nations to put forward for permanent U.N. Security Council seats.

Representatives from the 15 states also will consider proposals for Security Council expansion. One proposal would offer Africa two permanent seats on the council, and the other proposal would be for four African seats with rotating three-year terms.

The AU hasn’t made much headway in choosing candidates for permanent council membership, though Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa have volunteered and are lobbying quietly behind the scenes.

The effort to expand the council, which has five permanent members and 10 rotating two-year seats, has taken on new momentum after a December report of a high-level U.N. panel and in advance of a summit this autumn on U.N. reform and development set to coincide with the General Assembly opening.

No hajj epidemics

U.N. officials sought last week to downplay reports that infected pilgrims may have spread the polio virus across North Africa and Saudi Arabia on their way to Mecca for the hajj.

Saudi health authorities have reported three cases of polio, prompting fears that the disease could resurface beyond the six countries now dealing with active outbreaks.

But Dr. David Heymann, who leads the World Health Organization’s polio-eradication effort, said the earlier fears were unfounded.

“Now that the pilgrimages are over, we can look back and see that there were no epidemics of any type of disease,” he told reporters in Geneva last week.

Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at bpisik@washingtontimes.com.

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