November 29, 2005

Unspent tsunami donations may go to Africa: Clinton

By Peter Apps

KINNIYA, Sri Lanka (Reuters) - Unspent donations given to
help victims of the Asian tsunami could be redirected to crises
in Africa after rebuilding is complete, former U.S. President
Bill Clinton, now a U.N. enoy, said on Tuesday.

But visiting communities living amid the ruins of Sri
Lanka's east coast ahead of tsunami's one year anniversary,
Clinton -- said much still had to be done in areas swamped by
the waves before any aid could be passed on.

"There are still some...funds that have not been spent," he
told Reuters in a destroyed hospital.

"In every country but the Maldives, the pledges exceed the
estimated damages. Until all the work is done...the people who
donated the money have to the right to expect it will be spent
in the way they intended it."

The December 26 tsunami sparked an unprecedented outpouring
of donations and pledges from both governments and individuals
-- some $12 billion -- but some aid workers trying to tackle
food shortages, worsening poverty and the effect of AIDS in
Africa say donations to them have fallen off as a direct

Clinton said surplus tsunami funds could be redirected to
help fight crises in African countries such as Malawi and
Lesotho, where AIDS is slashing agricultural production and the
cost of sickness, funerals and lost labor drives already
vulnerable families deeper into poverty. "The real answer to
this is the AIDS programs, the TB programs, the malaria
programs, the clean water programs, putting all these kids in
school," Clinton said. "They're cheap to do and they would do
so much good for so much people."


Some aid workers who have spent time in Africa say they are
sometimes distressed by the sheer volume of funds available for
tsunami victims, complaining Sri Lanka's temporary shelters are
far superior to much housing in the world's poorest continent.

But Clinton said that before any money was redirected, the
thousands still living in the wood and corrugated iron
structures or tents in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and
elsewhere should receive permanent accommodation.

"We still have a lot of work to do -- just look around,"
said Clinton, surrounded by the foundations that are all that
remain of many homes. "We need to honor the donors' wishes, put
these lives back together and then get on with dealing with
these other problems."

Flanked by U.S. Secret Service agents and heavily armed
troops and policemen, Clinton said he believed Sri Lanka had
done better than some other affected nations such as Indonesia,
but that more needed to be done.

The disaster killed as many as 232,000 people around the
Indian Ocean, and many Sri Lankan survivors complain little aid
has filtered through. Clinton said he felt the government was
doing well -- better than others in the region -- but that more
needed to be done.

But he said he was concerned by the island's troubled peace
process between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels, seen at
its lowest point since a ceasefire in 2002 with some analysts
saying war is possible as both sides seem unwilling to
compromise despite saying they will attend new talks.

"If there were, God forbid, a return to significant
violence it would significantly impact on the (rebuilding)
process," he said. "I'm certainly worried about it. But
everyone I have spoken to is aware of the risks and I hope that
they are also well aware of the opportunities."