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UN Expects Big Donors To Skip Out On Disaster Aid

by Thalif Deen

World Judging Wealthy Nations By How They Respond To Catastrophe

(IPS) UNITED NATIONS -- The United Nations -- along with international aid agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) -- is expressing skepticism over the eventual delivery of the hefty $4 billion in pledges made by donors for tsunami disaster relief operations in Southeast Asia.

Asked if governments could falter on their pledges, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters Monday: "If we go by past history, yes, I do have concerns."

"It is quite likely that, at the end of the day, we will not receive all of it," he added.

Annan specifically cited the example of the Bam earthquake in Iran in December 2003, where funds received fell short of promises made by the international community. "And we have (other) similar experiences," he added.

Iranian President Mohammed Khatami complained last year that of the $32 million in pledges, only about $17 million have actually been disbursed so far.

In an editorial last week,The New York Times said that victims of the Bam earthquake a year ago "are still living in tents because aid, including ours, has not materialized in the amounts pledged."

Annan admitted that "not all the money that was pledged for the Iran crisis has been disbursed."

"I hope that this time, as the international community is really aware, (and as) everyone is involved, we will fulfill our promises."

As of Wednesday, both donors and international financial institutions pledged over four billion dollars in assistance -- both for emergency relief operations and for reconstruction in the aftermath of the tsunami disaster which devastated parts of south and southeast Asia, including Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India.

Of the 36 donors, the top five are Australia ($765 million), Germany ($680 million), Japan ($500 million), and the United States ($350 million).

"Governments must not only pledge immediate aid for the millions of victims of the tsunami. They must deliver it before it is too late," Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America, told IPS.

"And they must support people rebuilding their lives after the cameras have gone. Like all the people in the humanitarian crises that never hit our TV screens, they need the continued, not just fleeting, generosity, of rich governments," he added.

Offenheiser said that people and corporations around the world have reacted "incredibly quickly" to the devastation, and given very generously. "We have never seen such a response. It is now vital that the aid gets through quickly and that the world does not forget survivors faced with the long-term task of rebuilding their lives," he added.

Oxfam also urged donor governments to give long-term aid to the millions who will be faced with the mammoth task of rebuilding their homes, businesses and communities.

The international aid agency also warned that massive attention for a short time does not necessarily produce generous support from donor governments. According to Oxfam, most donor governments have "very short attention spans" on their pledges.

The "flash appeal" in response to Iran's earthquake 12 months ago was only 54 percent funded (32 million dollars requested, only 17 million given).

A series of similar appeals for disasters that hit Haiti from March to September 2004 was only 36 percent funded (only 13 million dollars received of the 37 million dollars requested).

Similarly, Offenheiser said, "relative generosity in one year does not guarantee that donor governments will remain interested."

Afghanistan's 2002 appeal was 67 percent funded, immediately after the rigidly Islamic Taliban government was overthrown. Two years later, its "drought appeal" for 2004 was only 36 percent funded (26 million dollars of the 73 million requested).

But donor governments' generosity has also been influenced by political factors-- specifically in the aftermath of the U.S.-led military attack on Iraq and the separatist insurgency in Russia's Chechnya province.

Iraq and Chechnya's 2003 appeals were both 91 percent funded, while Cote d'Ivoire only received 54 percent, Liberia 45 percent in 2003, and Mozambique only 15 percent of what was requested.

"This added up to $40 in aid for each beneficiary in Chechnya, and 40 cents in Mozambique," Offenheiser said.

At the March 2002 International Conference on Financing for Development in Monterrey, Mexico, U.S. President George W. Bush announced the creation of a Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) that will "reward (developing) nations that root out corruption, respect human rights, and adhere to the rule of law... invest in better heath care, better schools and broader immunization."

The United States selected 16 countries -- including Armenia, Benin, Honduras, Mongolia, Morocco, Sri Lanka and Vanuatu -- as eligible to apply for U.S. development assistance.

But since the creation of the MCA in 2002, "the account is yet to disperse a single dollar," the Times said in its editorial last week.

Saradha Iyer of the Malaysia-based Third World Network, one of the leading NGOs in the field of development, points out that the Bush administration had promized to donate 1.7 billion dollars the first year of the MCA, 3.3 billion dollars in the second, and 5.0 billion dollars in the third year.

Citing a report in the Times on Christmas Eve 2004, Iyer said the Bush administration did not even ask Congress for the full 1.7 billion dollars in the first year. In the second year it asked for $1.3 billion and got just $1 billion. The next year the administration asked for $2.5 billion and got $1.5 billion.

"The worse thing of all is that the Millennium Challenge Account has not dispersed a single dollar yet," Iyer told IPS.

Hopefully, she said, "last week's earth-shaking, coastline-altering, community-devouring quake and tsunami will change all this -- and more."

Jan Egeland, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, raized a hornet's nest last week by accusing rich nations of being "stingy" because most of them have failed to meet the UN target of 0.7 percent of gross national product (GNP) as official development assistance (ODA) to the world's poorer nations.

The United States took strong exception to his criticism even though he did not identify any countries by name. "The United States has given more aid in the last four years than any other nation or combination of nations in the world," Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters.

Although in dollar terms the United States is high on the list of aid donors, it falls far behind if measured in terms of the country's national income.

Iyer said that the United States gave 2.0 percent of its national income to rebuild Europe after World War II. Today, the percentage of U.S. income going to poor countries remains at 0.14 percent, Britain's is at 0.34 percent and France 0.41 percent.

Only five countries have consistently met-- and gone beyond-- the 0.7 target which was set by the UN General Assembly in 1970.

The five countries are Denmark (1.06 percent), Netherlands (0.82 percent), Sweden (0.81 percent), Norway (0.80 percent) and Luxembourg (0.7 percent).

"The percentage of national incomes given to poor has always been the test of generosity of nations but countries have consistently failed to match promises with action," Iyer said.

"Now the reality is that unless much higher percentages of national incomes are actually earmarked for rebuilding and reconstruction, there is going to be no promise of any future for the vast majority of humankind," she added.

"Nature's blow must also force us to see the war on terror in some new light as well. Is spending $450 billion annually on the (U.S.) military and 15 billion dollars on development assistance -- a ratio of 30:1 -- any longer justified?" she asked.

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Albion Monitor January 5, 2005 (

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