- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The United Nations yesterday urged nations to come through with aid promised to countries battered by the Dec. 26 tsunami.

The United Nations is coordinating and cajoling nations and aid groups as they provide relief and plan reconstruction in nations around the Indian Ocean. More than 80 countries met yesterday in Geneva to discuss the global organization’s initial appeal for nearly $1 billion targeted at emergency relief and to consider long-term assistance.

Nations have pledged more than $4 billion, but the money is promised over several years. A U.N. “flash appeal” for $977 million would meet immediate needs. Nations are responding at record pace.

“This has never happened before — that two weeks after a disaster we have $717 million that we can spend on immediate emergency relief effort,” Jan Egeland, the U.N. emergency relief coordinator, said yesterday.

U.N. records show that such emergency appeals often go unmet. An call for $32 million to help Iran after a devastating earthquake in Bam in December 2003, for example, was only 54 percent fulfilled as of yesterday.

Disaster areas also can fall out of the spotlight.

“In the relief phase, it is so easy to raise funds. Unfortunately, something else is going to happen in another part of the world, and… this will be overshadowed. But this will take years of recovery,” said Margaret Arnold, program manager for the World Bank’s hazard management unit.

Even when funds are pledged and commitments met, that does not guarantee that money will be well spent.

“The responses to Hurricane Mitch, the fall of the Taliban in 2001 and the Bam earthquake in 2003 have all been plagued with problems, though all started with enormous international attention,” said Oxfam International, an aid group.

A World Bank report published last year after the disaster response to Hurricane Mitch in Honduras showed that work was sometimes poorly organized and carried out.

Mitch struck in 1998, killing 5,757, injuring 12,272 and displacing more than 441,000 people in the Central American country, the World Bank said. Total damage reached an estimated $3.6 billion, about three-quarters of Honduras’ economic output at the time.

Donors pledged $2.7 billion in support from 1998 to 2003 and offered a moratorium on the country’s debt to aid with recovery, the World Bank said in the 2004 report.

“Physical reconstruction of infrastructure and housing has been the most visible legacy of the post-Mitch experience. Results have been mixed,” the report said.

Two years after the disaster, hundreds remained in temporary shelters, road and bridge repairs remained incomplete, and the quality of the reconstruction work often was poor.

At the same time, the country’s external public debt increased by $1.5 billion because much of the aid was in the form of loans rather than grants.

The study, based in part on interviews with government and aid officials, as well as residents, said, “No interviewee at any level suggested that the people of Honduras are economically better off now than they had been prior to the disaster. On the contrary, interviewees at all levels suggested the opposite.”

The report blamed lack of coordination among aid groups and with local governments, as well as a failure to allow local requirements dictate the aid response. Instead, countries and aid groups pursued projects that they readily could complete.

U.S. officials already are concerned that promises of aid may not match local needs in tsunami-hit nations.

“The system needs to be that the field tells us what they need and we pull the resources from the donor governments and the central governments of these countries to the field … as opposed to us pushing resources to the field without any demand for them,” Andrew Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said Monday.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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