December 20, 2005

US groups spend 42 percent of tsunami aid: report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. relief groups have spent about
42 percent of the $1.78 billion raised from private donations
to aid victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami, according to a
report released on Tuesday.

InterAction, an umbrella group representing 165 U.S.-based
aid organizations, said spending levels in the nine months
following the December 26 tsunami reflected the fact that many
projects were only in the first year of multiyear commitments.

"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," said Jim Bishop,
InterAction's director of humanitarian policy and practice.

But the report also attributed spending delays to the
uneven pace of recovery from the deadly earthquake and waves
that killed some 220,000 people and devastated Indian Ocean
coastal communities from Somalia to Indonesia.

"In several nations the capacity of the local authorities
and civil society to engage in rehabilitation was undercut by
high loss of life among civil servants and community leaders,
as well as by massive destruction of transport links and vital
infrastructure," it said.

"Delays in reaching some key policy decisions, particularly
regarding land use in the most affected areas, inhibited
permanent resettlement activities," the report added. It did
not specify countries or regions.

Of $1.78 billion funds raised by 62 InterAction members in
one of the biggest charitable fund-raising efforts in history,
the groups used up $743 million, or 41.9 percent, as of
September 30, InterAction said in its "accountability report."

The report does not cover programs InterAction members
undertook using funds from the U.S. government, U.N. agencies,
other foreign governments and their overseas affiliates.

Among the large recipients, the American Red Cross pulled
private donations totaling $567.3 million, and spent $166.8
million of that, the report said. The aid group AmeriCares
received $120 million and spent $22.5 million, it said.

Mercy Corps took in $43.9 million and spent $24.2 million
as of September 30, while Save the Children USA received $78.5
million and spent $25.4 million, the report said.

Eric Block, a spokesman for Mercy Corps, said the Portland,
Oregon-based group had set a target of spending 60 percent of
donations in the first year "out of a sense of responsibility
to donors who gave to the emergency."

But Mercy Corps and other agencies also needed to spread
out spending in cases like the tsunami, when disaster recovery
work goes on for many years beyond receipts of donations.