Tsunami Disaster Need Increases, Responses Often Flawed


Seven weeks after the tsunami disaster that swept from Indonesia to Somalia, newspaper headlines and TV news stories have fallen off as nations continue to find corpses and victims cope with lost livelihoods.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that 1,400 more bodies were recovered in Indonesia on Saturday and that hundreds of bodies are being found daily.

 

The estimated death toll of 295,000 is expected to rise.

 

The United Nations World Food Program said hundreds of thousands of people were at risk to hunger and malnutrition.

 

President Bush announced last week an increase in the United States relief pledge, to $950 million. That amount has grown from the government's initial commitment of $15 million.

 

Some $300 million of the American pledge will go for long-term development projects such as roads and water distribution systems.

 

The U.S. relief and development aid total placed the nation at the top of the donor list, ahead of Australia ($750 million) and Germany ($680 million).

 

However, U.S. government conditions of foreign aid temper the apparent generosity of the American pledge.

 

According to Foreign Policy in Focus, the U.S. government requires that recipient nations purchase most of their needed materials from American companies, meaning the aid dollars go for more expensive goods and services than what they would cost if purchased from indigenous providers.

 

The latest government figures disclosed that "72 cents of every American aid dollar was spent on U.S. goods and services."

 

Almost $6 billion has been pledged globally in public monies and private donations, including those to church-related organizations.

 

As of late January, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship had received over $500,000 for tsunami relief.

 

One church alone has donated $126,000 through the CBF.

 

The First Baptist Church of Rome, Ga., initially gave $50,000 from its 2004 budget surplus to purchase five water purification systems for small villages and refugee camps in Indonesia. The church subsequently contributed another $76,000.

 

Reading about Rome's action, the First Baptist Church of Wilmington, N.C., decided to take $50,000 from its reserve fund for tsunami relief through CBF, even though the church did not make its 2004 budget.

 

Baptist World Aid Australia reported receiving more than $2.5 million. Working through partner organizations, the bulk of BWAA will be used for rehabilitation and reconstruction work.

 

British Christians gave almost $1.9 million to the BMS World Mission, the oldest Baptist missionary organization, in the first month after the disaster.

 

Reports about well-cleaning and mobile kitchens from relief teams affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas accompanied other reports of charitable fraud.  

 

Police in Pretoria, South Africa, warned the public about a fraudulent letters that sought to raise funds for tsunami victims, estimating that some 4 million letters were in circulation.

 

An Australian girl and a London man have been charged in separate counts with fraud. A group of Chinese was charged with manipulating the Google search engine to place their bogus charity above genuine relief organizations.

 

Media reports from Sri Lanka offered two contradictory realities. An estimated 1 million people in remote areas had not received basic needs, while a warehouse in the city of Galle contained a mountain of unusable donations.

 

Concerned but uninformed donors have mailed an array of clothing and other items, including pink-thong panties, stiletto shoes, winter jackets and six packs of Viagra pills.

 

"Oh no! More clothes." Keerthi de Soysa, a Sri Lankan woman, told a reporter upon seeing another load of cloths. "We're not beggars. We don't need these hand-me-downs."

 

On Friday, the prestigious 2004 World Press Photo of the Year award went to a Reuters' picture of a mourning Indian woman bent down in the sand with her palms turned upward.  A single sandal was behind her. The bloated arm of a relative was in front of her.  

 

Robert Parham is the executive editor of EthicsDaily.com.

 

Editor's Note: Parham will be filing news stories from the tsunami disaster areas in the coming days.

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