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Countries pledge to turn promises into action

The city of Meulaboh in Indonesia was destroyed by the tidal waves Keystone

The United Nations has received firm commitments from 70 countries, including Switzerland, to provide immediate assistance for millions of tsunami survivors.

This content was published on January 11, 2005 - 21:08

At a conference in Geneva, donor nations agreed to make $717 million (SFr846 million) available for the UN’s urgent appeal, in a bid to speed up relief efforts.

During Tuesday’s talks, representatives of 250 countries and humanitarian organisations also discussed long-term reconstruction plans and donor transparency.

“We saw a confirmation of the pledges already announced and we discussed how to make the system mutually accountable,” the head of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), Walter Fust, told swissinfo.

“We’re going to work on the development of an internet-based monitoring system,” he added.

“This is extremely important in order to show that governments really mean what they say, because otherwise we’re betraying the private donors."

Unprecedented

So far, pledges of help for the victims of the December 26 tsunami - which killed at least 150,000 people - have topped $7 billion from both governments and private sources.

Last week, the UN launched the largest so-called “flash” appeal in its history, calling for almost $1 billion to fund its relief efforts over the next six months.

The UN’s emergency relief coordinator, Jan Egeland, said Tuesday’s meeting had resulted in firm financial commitments of 73 per cent of that amount.

“This has never, ever happened before,” Egeland told a news conference.

Past disaster appeals have failed to bring in all the money sought, but Egeland said he was confident that countries would fully commit to providing the requested $1 billion.

Reconstruction

Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey had opened the conference by highlighting the unprecedented outpouring of generosity sparked by the disaster.

“The global response was remarkable, generous and rapid,” Calmy-Rey told participants.

She also urged nations to develop a disaster response system before the next catastrophe strikes and stressed the need for governments and individuals to start thinking about long-term reconstruction plans.

“Each citizen must feel a part of the rehabilitation and reconstruction effort, which will require massive cooperation and flawless coordination,” said Calmy-Rey.

Accountability

A key element of the coordination effort would involve a financial tracking system to encourage donors to make good on their pledges and be open about how they spend their funds.

“We want to make sure all monies are committed, spent and reach the communities they’re intended to reach,” Egeland said.

Fust said the proposed online monitoring system would be open to public scrutiny to ensure the transparent distribution of funds.

“The most important thing is that the money be disbursed quickly, especially for emergency relief,” added Fust. “But in the long run, we have to examine the accountability issue.”

“If the information is made public, there will be competition to distribute the money but if not, everyone will hide behind closed doors and recycle previously-pledged funds.”

swissinfo, Anna Nelson in Geneva

In brief

Donor countries have agreed to rapidly distribute $717 million to tsunami victims.

Last week, the UN appealed for $1 billion to provide urgent assistance to the region.

Pledges from governments and private sources have already topped $7 billion.

Donors have also agreed to develop a monitoring system to improve transparency about how aid is spent.

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