Wednesday, December 14, 2005

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The good news about tsunami aid

With the one-year anniversary of the Asian tsunami upon us, it's worth following up on the outpouring of aid that took place. All too often the topline numbers look impressive, but the follow-through is weak -- money is either misallocated or not spent at all.

So how has the tsunami aid worked out? Surprisingly well, as it turns out. The OECD's Development Assistance Committee has tracked oficial aid flows, and reports that the aid got to where it was supposed to go:

Two-thirds of the aid which the European Commission and the 22 member governments of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee pledged to countries hit by the Indian Ocean tsunami has been spent or ear-marked for specific projects, according to statistics gathered by the OECD....

Donor governments and the European Commission have committed USD 1.7 billion to emergency aid and USD 1.9 billion to longer term reconstruction projects, to be spent by 2009. More than 90% of the emergency aid – nearly USD 1.6 billion – was spent in the nine months immediately following the disaster. For reconstruction, USD 473 million has been spent, leaving USD 1. 4 billion committed and in the pipeline for spending over the coming years.

The rest of the money pledged will be committed once other specific projects and programmes have been identified.

Together, Indonesia and Sri Lanka have received more than 60% of the funds committed so far.
2005 has been a year of extreme humanitarian challenges. The tsunami was by far the greatest in terms of lives lost and destruction and donors responded generously.

Click here for a glance at the country-specific tables.

Has the money done any good? Over at Foreign Policy's web site, Karl F. Inderfurth, David Fabrycky, and Stephen P. Cohen say yes:

[T]he danger existed that the tsunami relief story would play out like too many others: Aid pledges are made following the disaster, only to go unfulfilled as interest and attention wane. But tsunami relief has been sustained. Donors are keeping their pledges, NGOs have billions in the bank to spend on projects, and survivors continue to be cared for relatively well. Substantial government aid packages have been complemented by an astonishing level of private giving. For example, the U.S. government has pledged a total of $857 million, and U.S. private and corporate donations total at least $1.48 billion....

The region is now transitioning from relief to recovery. Almost all the 150,000 Indonesian students who lost their educational facilities returned to school within two months of the disaster. Most are meeting in tents or temporary facilities, but plans are in place to rebuild more than 350 schools. Tens of thousands of unemployed people have gone back to work through cash-for-work programs and the busy construction sector.

These are temporary fixes, however, and a long-term solution depends on restoring the devastated fishing, agriculture, and small-business sectors and diversifying the local economies. Fortunately, the tourism industries of affected countries have bounced back quickly, with the exception of the Maldives, which has seen a 45 percent drop in visitors this year. Food supplies are adequate. Health and sanitation remain good as the reconstruction of medical facilities progresses. Housing is the short-term challenge that most frustrates the displaced persons and aid donors....

Enough money has been raised to cover most medium-term reconstruction costs, if it is well spent. The unprecedented amount of resources mobilized may allow affected areas to realize the relief community’s mantra of “building back better”—rebuilding communities with better housing, education, healthcare, and economies than existed before the disaster. Due to their sizable aid commitments, international donors have sustained their focus on transparency and accountability in the recovery process. Innovative publicly available systems have been developed to track tsunami-related spending and to match donors with recipients, such as the U.N. Tsunami Expenditure Tracking System and publicly accessible online databases that keep track of aid dollars. Indeed, the most pressing need is for better coordination of the hundreds of groups involved. Ironically, one problem at this point may be that some organizations have too much money. Some relief officials complained earlier in the year that NGOs flush with money were able to work alone and “fly the flag,” ultimately hindering the integration of relief operations and leading to duplication.

When too much money is a problem, it's safe to say the aid effort has been remarkably successful.

Alas, as these charts demonstrate, the outpouring of aid for the tsunami has not been matched in other disasters. Whereas more than 80% of funding requirements for the tsunami have been met, aid levels for the victims of the South Asian quake have at only 30% of needed levels.

posted by Dan on 12.14.05 at 12:32 AM


just read your interview, you gave at netzeitung. i agree on most of your arguments. overhere (switzerland) though, we are still quite far away of bloggers having an influence on opinion leaders...

posted by: Polissilop on 12.14.05 at 12:32 AM [permalink]

just read the interview, you gave at netzeitung. i agree on most of your arguments. overhere (switzerland) though, we are still quite far away of bloggers having an influence on opinion leaders...

posted by: Polissilop on 12.14.05 at 12:32 AM [permalink]

Yes - lots of aid flow, but the real problem is not a lack of funds but a lack of coordination:

posted by: S.R. on 12.14.05 at 12:32 AM [permalink]

The relative effectiveness of Tsunami aid speaks to the relatively effective civil societies and national governments of the countries hardest hit. Given the parlous state of both in most of these countries within my own somewhat brief lifespan (think: India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka--good government? yes, really) this is heartening news.

Now if we ask why such stingy aid for equally devastated, equally suffering earthquake victims, I think we have to note quite a few factors. First, this one failed to capture the imagination of the fashionable media. Where were the celebrity telethons? The full page ads with well organized fund-raising campaigns? The front-page stories about how aid is not getting where it should (and how President Bush is to blame)?

Nor is it not surprising that people had a "what, again?" mentally given the rapid succession of terrible events of the past year and, more importantly, the fact that the earthquake happened within weeks of Katrina.

But above all, the association of Pakistan with terrorists is too closely linked in Americans' minds for the kind of generosity that was lavished elsewhere to be repeated there. Whereas Bush the candidate could be mocked for not knowing Musharraf's name, now everyone seems to know who he is and they suspect he is not a man to be trusted.

Americans are always portrayed as rubes who can't find their hometown on a world map. But perhaps the WOT has heightened their understanding of who can and can't be trusted with their tax deductible donations, and this is a semi-rational decision on their part.

posted by: Kelli on 12.14.05 at 12:32 AM [permalink]

Color me unconvinced. That is, I don't think the differential responses to the tsunami and the earthquake are attributable to a lack of trust in President Musharraf.

Although the WOT may have made Americans somewhat more familiar w/ various parts of the world, I think most U.S. citizens would still be hard pressed to locate Sri Lanka or Indonesia on a map.

The more likely explanation, it seems to me, is "compassion fatigue," a result of the closeness in time of the earthquake and Hurricane Katrina. Another contributor, perhaps, is the absence of Westerners in the disaster zone and the related contrast between the expectation of a leisurely vacation on a sandy beach and the shock of the tsunami. Also, related to timing is the fact that the tsunami occurred during what is, for most Westerners, Christmas vacation, whereas the earthquake occurred in the midst of what was, at least in the U.S., a very busy news period.

posted by: JRG on 12.14.05 at 12:32 AM [permalink]

It is healthy, I shall come on your site more often, thank.

posted by: Heel on 12.14.05 at 12:32 AM [permalink]

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