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Mishandled Aid Could Easily Hurt Tsunami Victims

by Suvendrini Kakuchi

Flood Of Aid To Asia May Come At Expense Of Other Disasters

(IPS) TOKYO -- There is a risk that donor nations might run the risk of 'killing' the already fragile tsunami-affected countries with too much undirected kindness, specialists say.

Because of this, Japanese experts want the aid money committed by Tokyo to the devastated countries to be spent wisely.

This call comes as Tokyo announced in Geneva, at a donors conference, that it will pay $250 million within days -- making it the biggest contributor in a massive relief operation in South and South-east Asia.

"The biggest by far is Japan which is contributing within the next few days $250 million in cash," chief UN humanitarian coordinator Jan Egeland told reporters on Tuesday.

About 18 of the 70 countries meeting with aid agencies in Geneva pledged $717 million within days for immediate aid, covering 73 percent of the UN's appeal for $977 million for six months launched last week in Jakarta.

The official death toll from the Dec. 26 killer waves, spawned by a 9.0 undersea quake in the northernmost tip of Indonesia's Sumatra island, is over 150,000. For millions in a dozen or so Indian Ocean countries, the situation remains dire.

The international community has rallied to their cause: by the end of last week more than five billion dollars had been pledged to the relief effort by governments and individuals.

"Every step must be taken to ensure the huge collections of aid are used properly and with a long-term view to help the most affected areas," economist Daisuke Hiratsuka, an expert on Thailand at the quasi-governmental Institute of Developing Economies, told IPS.

"There is a risk that the money could just be used on producing short-term results like, for instance, pouring everything into the construction industry for rebuilding houses -- rather than also focusing on people's lives," he added.

According to Prof. Hisashi Nakamura, a development expert on Sri Lanka at Ryukoku University, the rebuilding of livelihoods should take precedence over everything else.

"For example, the worst hit in Sri Lanka are the fishermen who lived on the coastal areas and depended on the sea for their livelihood. They need money fast to buy boats, nets, and refrigeration units to start their lives again," he said.

"Donors must recognize these important needs. Aid as well as money must be channeled to help them earn a living again," emphasized Nakamura.

Calls were also made for aid money to be used for the setting up of an early warning system for tsunamis in the Indian Ocean.

Economist Hiratsuka said this project would regain the trust of tourists to visit the affected countries again in order to help revive their economies.

"The tsunami has badly damaged the safety image of respective countries and damaged the tourist industry. Regaining trust again is a big part of aid," he said.

On Wednesday, Japan announced that it would contribute four million dollars towards the building of a tsunami warning system. The UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction has proposed building such a system for eight million dollars, but also suggested that the cost could grow to $20 million.

The experts also expressed concern that aid must not be used for ulterior political motives and warned that the deployment of Japan's Self Defense Forces (SDF), to help in the tsunami recovery, could be exploited by the government.

"The huge aid effort has an agenda behind it and countries are just making pledges in order not to be seen to be outdone by others," said Prof. Hiroyuki Ohashi, a development expert at Keisei University.

"Japan's use of the SDF in high-profile relief operations might be used to show its military in a positive light at a time when it is stirring controversy elsewhere -- for instance in Iraq," he said. " I am totally against the politicization of tsunami relief."

To solidify its military alliance with the U.S. -- on which Japan relies heavily for its defense needs -- Japan last year sent around 550 SDF to southern Iraq. Tokyo recently decided to keep them there for another year, much to the chagrin of the Japanese public.

The Defense Ministry announced the planned SDF deployment to the tsunami-hit areas last Friday. Japanese military forces, helping in search and rescue missions, will now be in an area fraught with bitter memories of Japanese aggression during World War II.

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Albion Monitor January 12, 2005 (

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