If you have been following the dialogue on aid (not AIDS), try to read this:
Cash Often Fails to Match Aid Pledges
By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 14, 2005; Page A14
UNITED NATIONS -- In the three weeks since the Indian Ocean tsunami
ripped up coastlines in Asia and Africa, the United Nations has credited
more than 40 governments, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank
with unprecedented pledges of assistance valued at nearly $4 billion.
But a closer look at those commitments shows that hundreds of millions
of dollars in those pledges had already been committed to development
projects in the region. And as much as half of the offers are for
interest-free loans, which the United Nations traditionally does not
count as humanitarian aid.
The tsunami relief effort illustrates how large pledges of aid have
historically yielded far less cash than was promised for humanitarian
relief and recovery efforts. And it underscores why the United Nations
-- which asked for nearly $1 billion to fund its tsunami relief and
reconstruction efforts over the next six months -- remains concerned
that money may not be available to finance relief efforts, despite
commitments made worldwide.
"I will not be surprised if we do not get all the money" pledged by
governments, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan told reporters. "This is
the history we live with."
Over the past two years, the United Nations has faced a shortfall of $3
billion in funding for relief operations and for rebuilding countries
devastated by civil conflicts or natural disasters. In many cases,
countries simply have not followed through on large public pledges of
U.N. officials and aid experts say that the challenge in accurately
tallying aid pledges is that governments rarely explain whether their
contributions consist of new money, loans or a repackaging of earlier
announced development assistance meant to increase the apparent size of
"Governments have traditionally played political theater with aid
pledges," said Shepard Forman, the director of New York University's
Center on International Cooperation, who has studied aid disbursements.
"There have been lots of smoke and mirrors in the amounts pledged by
governments, and there is almost no way to track it."
Last February, U.N. members promised about $500 million to rebuild
Liberia after years of civil war and misrule by exiled leader Charles
Taylor. The United Nations asked for $141 million to cover its costs but
received $65.3 million.
The December 2003 earthquake in Bam, Iran, initially elicited promises
of $1.1 billion, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami noted last December.
The United Nations appealed for about $33 million in January 2004 to run
its recovery efforts but received $17.7 million, said Jan Egeland, the
U.N. emergency relief coordinator.
"People are frustrated because they still live in temporary shelters,
and they got promises that they would get housing," said Egeland, who
said that 100,000 Bam residents still live in temporary shelters. "And
they have not forgotten, and we have not forgotten, that there were
pledges to give them permanent housing."
U.N. officials said their appeals for money after other natural
disasters have fared even worse. A U.N. request for funds to respond to
the devastation caused by a cycle of Caribbean storms, including
Tropical Storm Jeanne in September, has been severely underfunded.
The United Nations asked for $37.4 million to help storm victims in
Gonaives, Haiti, where more than 2,000 people died, but received $13.8
million. "In some situations, where we've made appeals, we've got as
little as 14 percent of the amount we need to respond," Annan said
recently at a pledging conference in Jakarta, Indonesia.
In response to the tsunami, the United States, which promised $350
million, and other governments have pledged generously, U.N. officials
and aid experts said, competing in some cases to gain the distinction of
being the world's largest donor.
Australia and Germany recently topped the list of aid donors with
pledges of $810 million and $674 million, respectively. Half of
Australia's pledge consists of interest-free loans to the Indonesian
government spread out over five years. The bulk of Germany's pledge will
be spent over the next three to five years.
At a meeting Tuesday in Geneva that focused on raising cash in the short
term for U.N.-backed relief operations, representatives of more than 30
donor countries promised to earmark $756 million over the next six
months, about three-quarters of the United Nations' total appeal. The
pledges include near-term commitments of $250 million from Japan, $68
million from Germany, $40 million from Australia and $35 million from
the United States. But U.N. officials said they have not received the
The World Bank recently pledged more than $250 million in credits and
grants to help fund the recovery effort. But most of that pledge
involves interest-free loans that have been shifted from existing
development programs in the region, said Melissa Fossberg, a World Bank
The Asian Development Bank, which pledged $675 million to rebuild roads,
trains and other infrastructure projects in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the
Maldives, said that as much as $175 million of that amount consists of
"reprogrammed" money from existing projects. The bank has not provided
figures on how much of the additional money will be in the form of loans
U.N. officials, meanwhile, are left to thank nations for their generous
assistance and promises, while at the same time drawing attention to the
large gap between the pledges and the money currently available to fund
relief operations. And the United Nations' Egeland has routinely lumped
together loans, reprogrammed money and promises of cash grants in his
daily tally of international commitments, which in some cases has
created an impression that the pledges of new money are higher than they
"We are recording now pledges between $3 billion and $4 billion, which
again shows that it is indeed the world coming together in a manner
we've never, ever seen before," Egeland said after Australia and Germany
announced their pledges. "We say thank you for the money."