Sit in Banks while Victims Languish in Tents
By Hassina Leelarathna
Pacific News Service
Surveys released on
the first anniversary of the Indian Ocean tsunami
reveal that a large percentage of those affected
are still living in makeshift tents and that some
of them could remain there for another 10 years.
Ironically, it is not for lack of funds.
Fritz Institute, a San Francisco nonprofit, found
that of 2,300 people surveyed a year after the tsunami,
100 percent of respondents in the hardest-hit parts
of the Indonesian island Sumatra, 92 percent in
India and 78 percent in Sri Lanka were still living
in tents or temporary shelters.
Oxfam International, the UK-based charity confederation,
estimates that 80 percent of the 1.8 million people
left homeless by the disaster were still without
"satisfactory permanent accommodation."
Incongruous as it may seem, the coffers are overflowing
at the global charity organizations that have promised
tsunami reconstruction. As incongruous is another
reality -- of small, unknown groups outdoing the
global charity giants in building permanent shelters
for tsunami survivors.
A report on the tsunami-related funding activities
of the major private charities in the first nine
months after the disaster reveals that less than
half of the $1.8 billion they received from American
donors has been spent.
The report, by the umbrella aid group InterAction,
is a study of 62 well-known aid organizations, including
American Red Cross, CARE USA, Habitat for Humanity,
Operation USA and World Vision. It showed that the
consortium had spent only $743 million through Sept.
American Red Cross had used only $166.8 million
(about 29 percent) of the $567.3 million it had
received in private donations, part of it on immunization
and de-worming programs in East Africa. In Sri Lanka,
American Red Cross is providing water and sanitation
assistance in Hambantota, Matara, Kalutara and Galle
and says it has begun a comprehensive psychosocial
support program designed to benefit approximately
200,000 people in the southern and western provinces.
American Red Cross spokesperson Michael Oko explained
that the organization was carefully building the
foundation for long-term programs. "We have
just finished the first year of a five-year plan,"
he said, "helping provide clean water, sanitation
The Red Cross has committed to building 15,000 houses
in Sri Lanka. But according to the Tsunami Housing
Reconstruction Unit of the Sri Lanka Ministry of
Urban Development and Water Supply, the Red Cross
had completed a mere 62 houses at year-end.
Meanwhile, Red Cross Australia, which has raised
$96 million, has indicated that it may take another
10 years to pass on all the donations to tsunami
As for some of the other big charities, InterAction
revealed that CARE USA had spent $7 million of $55
million received, Habitat for Humanity $8.6 million
of the $44 million raised, and World Vision $18.3
million of $63.3 million raised.
Several aid groups cite unanticipated problems with
coordination and distribution as reasons for not
being able to spend more since the disaster of Dec.
26, 2004. Others say the transition from short-term
to long-term rebuilding programs will require a
more prolonged effort.
"The recovery effort is one that's going to
require three to five years at a minimum, and the
agencies that are going to stay the course have
to extend their funds in a way calculated to allow
them to complete the work," says Jim Bishop,
InterAction's director of humanitarian policy and
The scope of death and destruction also made decision-making
difficult, delaying rebuilding, the report says.
If private charities have been errant in holding
on to tsunami funds, the United Nations has spent
liberally -- but apparently not on tsunami victims.
The leading financial daily The Financial Times,
following a two-month investigation, reported that
up to a third of the $590 million so far spent under
the United Nations $1.1 billion disaster "flash
appeal" appears to have gone to UN administration,
staff and related costs.
"Flash appeal" refers to the money donated
by governments to the United Nations in the first
weeks after the disaster to fund the early aid work.
Faced with such statistics, citizens of the affected
countries are angry and bewildered. A Thai official
in Los Angeles who wished to remain anonymous said,
"They (large charities) have used our tragedy
to become rich."
"I cannot understand why it's taking so long,"
says Bhante Walpola Piyananda, head of the Dharma
Vijaya Buddhist Temple in Los Angeles. "Yes,
there are problems. Nothing is easy, but with all
that money, surely the big organizations could have
done better." Piyanandaa's temple group has
so far completed 10 permanent houses and expects
to have another 26 completed by the end of February.
Other small expatriate groups have reported similar
success stories: the Los Angeles-based Sri Lanka
Fund was able to complete a small community of 40
homes and move the residents in by July 2005; the
Florida Buddhist Temple completed 16 homes by the
end of August, with $104,000 in donations.
Bhante Piyananda said he is very concerned about
the future of the tsunami survivors, with only a
total of 5,000 of the needed 80,000 homes completed
"Young girls don't have privacy in the shelters,"
he says. "Children are exposed to all kinds
of situations. How can we tell them it's going to
take another five years?"