The United Nations yesterday warned that huge promises of aid from rich countries to the Asia tsunami crisis might not be fulfilled as some countries use dubious methods to appear more generous than they really are.
Charities and international bodies say they fear that much of the money pledged so far to help the emergency in southern Asia may not materialize because governments traditionally renege on their humanitarian pledges.
There is definitely double accounting going on. A lot of the money will be swallowed up by the military or will have been been diverted from existing loans..
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
Last night the death toll stood at more than 125,000, although the exact tally will probably never be known. More than 5 million people have been left homeless.
More than a week after the disaster, most countries in the region have given up the search for survivors to concentrate on burying the dead.
But in Banda Aceh, the province of Indonesia closest to the epicenter of the earthquake, a 24-year-old fisherman, Tengku Sofyan, was found trapped but alive underneath his boat after being tossed on to the beach when the tsunami hit.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which is leading the response to the disaster, the amount promised by countries and international banks stood last night at just under $2bn (£1.1bn) after a verbal pledge at the weekend of $500m by the Japanese prime minister and $530m from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.
But UN OCHA spokesman, Robert Smith, told the Guardian: "We should be very cautious about these figures. Let's put it this way. Large-scale disasters tend to result in mammoth pledges which... do not always materialize in their entirety. The figures look much higher than they really are. What will end up on the ground will be much less."
Rudolf Muller, also of UN OCHA, said: "There is definitely double accounting going on. A lot of the money will be swallowed up by the military or will have been been diverted from existing loans."
A spokesman for the Overseas Development Institute, Britain's leading aid analysts, said: "The research evidence is that the immediate response to natural disasters involves some new money, but that rehabilitation needs are often met by switching aid money between uses rather than increasing total aid to the countries affected."
The disparity between government promises and the delivery of emergency and rehabilitation aid can be extreme. Iranian government officials working to rebuild Bam, destroyed by an earthquake exactly a year before the Asian tsunami, last week said that of $1.1bn aid promised by foreign countries and organizations only $17.5m had been sent.
Similarly, more than $400m was pledged by rich countries to help rebuild Mozambique after floods in 2000, but according to its public works minister, less than half was delivered.
The worst example was Hurricane Mitch, which in 1998 swept through Honduras and Nicaragua, killing more than 9,000 people and making 3 million homeless. Governments pledged more than $3.5bn and the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the EU promised a further $5.2bn, but less than a third of the money was ever raised.
Similarly, emergencies in Gujarat, Bangladesh and central America in the past three years have mostly not received all the money promised. The humanitarian emergency in Afghanistan attracted more than $700m of pledges, but less than half that has been sent. Of the $100bn promised for debt relief, only $400m was received.
Last night a spokesman for the US Agency for International Development could give no breakdown between civilian and military expenditures. But the US secretary of state, Colin Powell, indicated that the cost of military logistics were not included in the $350m pledge.
Britain's promised £50m to the Asian reconstruction funds will not come out of other aid budgets, the international development secretary, Hilary Benn, stressed last night. It will come from his department's contingency funds.
There was also concern that the Asia crisis would inevitably draw money from other emergencies.
Jasmine Whitbread, international director at Oxfam, said: "We are concerned that humanitarian aid could be sucked from other crises such as Sudan and Congo where the needs are just as great. Pledges to the tsunami victims must be new money and not taken from the people in other crises."
© Copyright 2005 Guardian Newspapers