Asia-Pacific, Development & Aid, Headlines

TSUNAMI IMPACT-ASIA: Rebuilding Still a Gargantuan Task

Marwaan Macan-Markar

BANGKOK, May 16 2005 (IPS) - To convey the reconstruction challenge that faces tsunami-ravaged Sri Lanka, Rachel Perera, a director on the government’s post-tsunami rebuilding task force, talks about houses.

On average, Sri Lanka sees between 4,000 to 5,000 new houses built every year by the private sector using available resources and manpower, she said.

But last December’s tsunami has pushed the demand through the roof. ”We need to build 105,000 houses in the affected areas,” Perera told IPS. ”So you can see the problem given our speed of construction and the numbers we are used to.”

As daunting, admits Perera, is the South Asian island’s need to ensure that the funds pledged by the international community to rebuild the country do flow in. For now, only 20 percent of the 1.3 billion U.S. dollars pledged by international donors have been translated into commitments, she revealed.

In Indonesia, which was the worst affected of Asia’s eight tsunami-hit countries, the international community has been more forthcoming. ”Half of what was pledged has arrived,” Mulyani Indrawati, state minister for national development planning, said in an interview.

The amount Indonesia needed to rebuild the devastated province of Aceh in the archipelago’s north was estimated at five billion U.S. dollars. ”The amount we have received, 2.5 billion (U.S.) dollars, is in a pot that needs to be dispersed according to priorities,” she added.

These twin issues – of the reconstruction challenges that lie ahead and the concerns about possible funding shortfalls in the post-tsunami rebuilding effort – came under review Monday during an ongoing regional conference here for Asian and Pacific Ocean countries.

”So far, about 6.7 billion dollars have been promised for tsunami recovery. But only about 2.5 billion dollars has been recorded as committed or paid up,” declared a statement by the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), a regional U.N. agency that is hosting the meeting.

The emergency relief efforts soon after the tsunami hit were ”successful”, Kim Hak-Su, ESCAP’s head, told ministers and government officials from the region. ”The long-term recovery is more difficult.”

The Indian Ocean tsunami killed close to 300,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands of people across a broad swathe of land, including northern Indonesia, three-fourths of Sri Lanka’s coast, parts of southern Thailand and south India and the Maldive Islands.

Indonesia’s Aceh province lost over 220,000 people due to the tsunami, while the death toll in Sri Lanka was 38,000.

”The total reconstruction costs over the next three to five years (for the eight affected countries) are expected to be between 9.8 billion dollars to 12.5 billion dollars,” states an ESCAP background note on the tsunami recovery effort.

It is an amount that towers over the funds sought as emergency humanitarian assistance, in the past five years, for crises in Africa in places like Burundi, Chad and Somalia.

In 2004, for instance, 3.3 billion U.S. dollars were sought for the ”mostly forgotten emergencies” in 14 countries that cut across Africa, Europe and the Middle East, states a report by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), a U.N. agency. Of that amount, only 1.7 billion dollars was paid by international donors resulting in a 1.6 billion dollar shortfall.

In 2003, five billion dollars were sought to deal with emergencies, of which 3.3 billion dollars were paid, leaving a shortfall of 1.7 billion dollars. And in the three years prior to that, the amounts were 3.1 billion dollars for 2001 and 2002 and 2.2 billion dollars for 2000. Of that, international donors paid 1.5 billion dollars in 2001, 2.3 billion dollars in 2002 and 1.2 billion dollars in 2000.

”We cannot have a repetition of the past where pledges were not converted into commitments,” Terje Skavdal, senior disaster response advisor for OCHA’s Asia division, told IPS. ”The money pledged for tsunami recovery efforts must become a reality.”

What is more, the international assistance to help the tsunami affected countries recover has emerged as an important test of global solidarity, he said, since the international response was unprecedented. ”It was exceptional and an act of solidarity. Yet this also makes the recovery process more complex, because so many are involved.”

For one, it stems from the number of governments, international agencies, financial institutions and non-governmental groups who have promised to help the tsunami affected. ”There were more than 90 government donors, some doing so for the first time,” said Skavadal.

By contrast, a normal appeal for an emergency results between 15 to 25 donors coming to aid the affected country.

Such a large number of donors has also prompted a need for new mechanisms to transfer the money, said Skavadal. ”The donors need an acceptable mechanism, with full accountability and transparency.”

Till such time, officials in the affected countries will be reluctant to implement recovery efforts, he added. ”It has for now become a catch-22 situation.”

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