Annan tells donors to make good on pledges

Posted in UN , Other | 07-Jan-05 | Author: Scott Shane and Raymond Bonner| Source: International Herald Tribune

Residents of Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh Province and one of the hardest hit areas, began to return Thursday…
Residents of Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh Province and one of the hardest hit areas, began to return Thursday to salvage whatever they could.
Secretary General Kofi Annan of the United Nations made an urgent plea to world leaders gathered here Thursday to make immediate cash donations of $977 million to provide water, food, shelter and medicine to the tsunami victims.

The summit meeting was organized to coordinate the huge relief effort in the face of immense logistical problems, a growing threat of disease and the sobering knowledge that even the initial count of the dead is incomplete.

A total of more than $3 billion has been pledged by countries around the world - even impoverished North Korea offered $150,000.

But there is concern about a common pattern in major disasters, in which money that is pledged when the issue dominates the news is later not delivered in full. That was the case in the December 2003 earthquake in Bam, Iran, where only a small percentage of hundreds of millions of dollars in pledges was paid out.

Asked about the disparity between pledges and actual donations, Annan said, "We have often had gaps in the past and I hope it is not going to happen in this case." He called on news organizations to "keep up the pressure."

In a sign of the political complications of providing aid in a volatile region, Secretary of State Colin Powell said after the meeting that the United States would relax restrictions on military aid to Indonesia in order to provide spare parts for American-supplied C-130 transport aircraft, which are playing a critical role in delivering emergency supplies.

The restrictions were imposed by Congress in 1999 because of human right concerns about Indonesia's suppression of East Timor's independence movement.

As recently as June, rights groups complained about Indonesia's use of C-130's and other U.S. military equipment in attacks on separatists in the province of Aceh on the island of Sumatra. But now only seven of Indonesia's 24 C-130's are in working order, Powell said, and the need for aid in Aceh, where roughly two-thirds of the tsunami's victims died, has overcome concerns that the equipment could be misused.

"The humanitarian need trumps the reservations we have," he said.

Annan called the tsunami "an unprecedented global catastrophe," the largest natural disaster the United Nations has faced in the 60 years of its existence. He warned that 11 days after the Dec. 26 earthquake set off catastrophic waves, parts of the devastated coastline of Aceh have yet to be surveyed, so the estimated total of 150,000 dead in the 12 countries hit by the tsunami may be low. An American official said that U.S. Navy helicopters will on Friday begin the most detailed survey yet of remote areas of Sumatra's west coast in an attempt to get a more complete idea of the extent of destruction.

Bodies remain on the streets in Banda Aceh, where crews work to clear them. World leaders met in Jakarta, Indonesia,…
Bodies remain on the streets in Banda Aceh, where crews work to clear them. World leaders met in Jakarta, Indonesia, to coordinate the aid effort.
Margareta Wahlstrom, the United Nations's special coordinator for the tsunami relief, said she expected the count of victims to rise. "As the rubble is moved, more dead bodies will be found," she said. "More dead bodies will come back from the water."

Meanwhile, the director general of the World Health Organization, Dr. Lee Jong Wook, said that another 150,000 people could die if a disease outbreak occurred. He estimated that 5 million people in a dozen countries had lost housing, water or food supplies as a result of the disaster.

"We are extremely concerned about the ongoing lack of access to basic needs," he said.

Powell said the "core group" of donor nations organized eight days ago by the United States would be dissolved, leaving the United Nations to take the leading role in the relief effort. Some commentators had viewed the initial American move as an attempt to bypass the United Nations, though both Powell and Annan said that was not the case.

"The core group helped to catalyze the international response," Powell said at the meeting, organized by the Association of South East Asian Nations. "But now having served its purpose, the core group will fold itself into the broader coordination efforts of the United Nations."

Powell said the U.S. Congress had indicated support for President George W. Bush's pledge of $350 million in relief funds and expressed "a willingness to do more as we understand the full dimensions of the catastrophe."

After its initial aid offers of $15 million and then $35 million were criticized as stingy, the Bush administration has moved aggressively to create a formidable response, including providing scores of military helicopters to deliver aid and a private fund-raising effort led by former Presidents Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush.

Now that the tsunami relief has grown to become the overwhelming concern of international charities and governments, questions arose about whether other crises were being ignored. In response to a reporter's question, Annan acknowledged that the refugee crisis in Darfur in western Sudan was getting less attention.

"That is a dilemma we live with," he said.

"This crisis has generated an incredible amount of resources, a spontaneous and generous response, while some other crises do not get the kind of response that we need."

The very scale of the money pledged for tsunami relief has raised questions about how it will be managed and spent.

"We don't need a donors' conference - we need a logistics conference," a European ambassador said.

"Everyone agrees with that," a senior American official said. He added that America was insisting on "accountability," which is the diplomatic way of acknowledging "corruption."

Secretary General Kofi Annan of the United Nations urged world leaders, including Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, to send…
Secretary General Kofi Annan of the United Nations urged world leaders, including Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, to send cash immediately.
Corruption has been endemic in Indonesia, starting with senior officials and filtering down to the civil servants who deal with the public.

Donor countries know that corruption will mean that not all of their donations will reach the people in need, diplomats from several countries said.

"Let's be realistic," the American official said. The hope is that 95 cents of each donated dollar gets out to the people, he said. An Asian diplomat with long experience in Indonesia put the figure at 90 cents on the dollar.

Beyond the corruption, another fear is that charities affiliated with Al Qaeda, Jemaah Islamiyah or other radical Islamic organizations will use the opportunity to infiltrate into Aceh.

"This is something the government of Indonesia has to watch very carefully," the American official said. He spoke on the condition that he not be identified because he was not authorized by Washington to talk to a reporter.

Indonesia is one of only six countries whose antimoney laundering regulations do not meet the standards set by the Financial Assets Task Force on Money Laundering, an international organization in which the United States plays a major role.