- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 15, 2005


Several major charities and relief agencies have stopped soliciting donations for tsunami victims and at least one has begun returning money.

Billions more dollars ultimately will be needed for long-term rebuilding in the devastated Asian region. But agencies sensitized by recent charity scandals say they are being careful not to accept more money now than they legitimately can spend in helping tsunami victims.

The American Red Cross and Britain-based Oxfam stopped raising money for their tsunami relief work more than a month ago when pledges reached spending targets. Britain’s Disasters Emergency Committee stopped last month for the same reason.

Catholic Relief Services also has ceased active solicitation, having received $114 million for $80 million in currently programmed tsunami relief activities. Doctors Without Borders has started sending money back.

“We didn’t want the restricted funds to outpace our capacity to use them effectively in the field,” said Nicolas de Torrente, executive director of Doctors Without Borders. “We want to be responsible toward our donors and respect their wishes, that if they give for the tsunami, it will be used for that.”

With upward of $115 million in donations, and a current tsunami relief budget of $33 million, the organization has been asking its tsunami donors if their money can be used elsewhere. About 90 percent have agreed, Mr. de Torrente said, but more than $500,000 has been returned.

Since the Dec. 26 tsunami killed more than 170,000 people in 11 Asian countries, governments have pledged more than $6 billion in relief and reconstruction funds. The United States initially pledged $350 million, including $226 million the U.S. military spent in emergency relief. President Bush has asked Congress to increase the overall U.S. aid package to $950 million.

Americans have donated another $1 billion to relief agencies, and British citizens have contributed $575 million.

Jan Egeland, emergency relief coordinator for the United Nations, said 90 percent of the $977 million the United Nations initially sought for emergency relief has been received and mostly spent providing food, shelter and medical help to tsunami survivors.

Governments and development groups now are focused on the estimated $12 billion in reconstruction costs.

“I don’t think you’ll see any group doing long-term development [in the tsunami-affected countries] saying they have enough,” said Sid Balman Jr., a spokesman for InterAction, an alliance of 160 international relief and development groups.

The high-profile reconstruction fund drive by former Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush promises to bring increased scrutiny for both public and private agencies helping tsunami survivors.

Officials say the risk of theft and fraud will increase as reconstruction gets under way.

“There is a limit to how much you can misuse a blanket, really, or how much you can misuse a bottle of purified water, or food ration,” Mr. Egeland said. “It’s more complicated if you are to rebuild highways, airports, schools and so on, and our development colleagues are acutely aware of that.”

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