Pledges are good, but cash is better,” U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters when asked “about the sluggish flow of concrete aid to tsunami-affected countries more than three months after the massive devastation.”

Of the 6.7 billion dollars pledged, only about 2.5 billion dollars have been ”recorded as committed or paid up.” The problem, [Jan] Egeland [U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs] says, is ”to convert pledges into cash commitments.” – IPS

The Guardian has a fascinating new report about its adopted village, Nusa, in Indonesia’s Aceh province. More below:
Update [2005-4-19 10:21:12 by susanhbu]: The Guardian today has this new story about the obstacles to reconstruction from issues of land ownership: Losing the plot: “The difficulty of finding out who owns which land is complicating the task of rebuilding Aceh, reports John Aglionby. … ‘If the process of reconstruction proceeds without a clear picture of land ownership then the potential for conflict is significant,’ said Dan Fitzpatrick, an advisor to the United Nations.”

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Less than four months after the big wave hit, villagers in Nusa have cleared tonnes of debris and will soon start rebuilding homes and cultivating land. But in the third visit to the Indonesian village, whose reconstruction the Guardian is monitoring this year, John Aglionby also finds creeping tensions.

In Aceh, the stress of the tsunami and uprooted lives has been hard on the already ill: “Safmiah Hussein had borne her heart and liver illness for many years, but her son Irwan is convinced it was stress and depression induced by the Boxing Day tsunami that finally brought her life to an end.”

However, only three families in Nusa remain in tents. The rest are now in barracks. To provide income, there is a “paid work programme being run in the sub-district by the international aid agency Mercy Corps.”

Not only does the work give them money but it makes them feel better, because the village looks smarter and it means they’re not just sitting around feeling depressed,” said Ichsan, a project manager from Mercy Corps.

Once the clean-up process is completed, the village will move on to stage two: construction of basic facilities and homes. “The plan is for the whole programme to last six months,” Ichsan said. By then, the 70% of the villagers who are farmers hope to be able to return to cultivating their land, both the plantations that escaped the tsunami and the inundated rice fields.

However, dangers, problems, and discontent remain:

Image Hosted by“Although the fields look clear, there are still thousands of little thorns, shards of glass and nails in the ground,” said Muhammad Yassin. “People are too afraid of getting injured to start planting.”

[Susan’s question: How in the heck do they clear the fields of these dangers?]

A different sort of fear is preventing them from tending their plantations. About three weeks ago when a farmer, who asked not to be named, went up the hill to his plot he was jumped on by a patrol of about a dozen heavily armed Indonesian soldiers hunting members of the separatist Free Aceh Movement, who have been fighting for 29 years for an independent homeland.

“I was questioned for about an hour and a half,” he said. “They repeatedly threatened to hit me and shoot me, even though I had my identity card. Their parting words were that if I told anyone about what happened they would slit my throat.” The farmer has not complained because he feels it would put him and his family at risk.

He also believes the village chief, Mafudz Din, is not interested in the problems of his villagers.

Villagers complain that he rarely engages with them. …

Then there’s the flow of cash needed to keep programs going. Reports IPS (Inter Press Service News Agency):

Of the 6.7 billion dollars pledged, only about 2.5 billion dollars have been ”recorded as committed or paid up.” The problem, Egeland says, is ”to convert pledges into cash commitments.”

The secretary-general [Annan] reinforced Egeland’s complaint when he told reporters Monday at the Oslo donor conference for Sudan: ”And that is why we are appealing to governments to give us as much liquid cash as possible.” <P.[……..]

”We are familiar with the phenomenon of countries pledging aid when the media spotlight is illuminating their actions, but then not following through when the cameras have moved on,” Stephen Greene, interim media director of Oxfam America, told IPS.

The resulting shortfall in anticipated resources can significantly hamper rebuilding efforts [such as that in Nusa, the village that The Guardian is tracking] and complicate the work of private aid groups, which are left uncertain about whether infrastructure projects normally financed by major donors will in fact be completed, he added.

At the April 14 press conference with Annan, former President Bill Clinton, “who has already visited some of the tsunami-affected countries, including Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, said: ‘We don’t know whether donor fatigue has set in, and whether commitments aren’t being kept, until we have national plans (of reconstruction).'”

”I mean the Red Cross has got a staggering amount of money. And you can’t really expect them to spend it until there’s a plan on which they can spend it, where they can say, okay, this is where I fit into this plan; this is where I belong and what I am going to do,” [Clinton] added.

”So there may be donor fatigue, but it hasn’t had a chance to express itself yet,” Clinton said.

Standing beside Clinton, Annan told reporters: ”I rely on him to make sure that donors not only pledge but disburse the money needed for recovery and reconstruction, and that it actually reaches the communities who need it most.”

Last week, the New York Times reported that recovery has been exceedingly slow in Aceh province in Indonesia …

”There is little sign in Aceh of the billions of dollars in donations from governments, aid organisations, civic groups and individual people who reached out to help from around the world,” the Times said.

Responding to the Times report, Neal Keny-Guyer, chief executive of the U.S.-based Mercy Corps [leading the effort in Nusa], said: ”We must recognise that this humanitarian response is unprecedented and requires a long-term focus.” His group alone has worked with 64 villages in the Aceh province, he added.

Oxfam’s Greene said that just as important as the amount of aid forthcoming, however, is that it be used as effectively as possible. …


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