One year after tsunami, did world promise too much?
The Indian Ocean tsunami tragedy prompted unprecedented generosity, but one year later the uncomfortable question is whether the big pledges came at a cost to millions struck by other disasters.
As the United Nations pleads for help for the nearly two million quake-hit Kashmiris facing a Himalayan winter and an equal number displaced in Darfur, much of the 10 billion dollars pledged after the tsunami remains untouched.
On paper, the most forthcoming donor was Japan which has made available all 500 million dollars it promised, putting paid to fears that the massive aid promised would never materialize.
Half the Japanese aid went to international relief groups, but around two-thirds of the rest, offered directly to tsunami-hit countries, is stuck in the bank waiting for projects to be proposed and for Tokyo to approve them.
Hiromitsu Muta, who conducted an outside review of the tsunami aid for the Japanese foreign ministry, said other donor nations had similar experiences.
"From my point of view, we could foresee that such things would happen. Many government officials there died. If the same thing happens again there may be a better way," Muta told AFP.
Muta, a human resources expert at Tokyo Institute of Technology, said Japan could have dispatched researchers immediately to help battered local administrations figure out what they needed.
The United States, which promised 350 million dollars in humanitarian relief, has given 137 million dollars as of December 22, according to UN figures. Australia offered 750 million US dollars and has contributed 36 million.
In the weeks after the giant waves killed 220,000 people -- including several thousand foreign tourists -- governments appeared to be competing to announce bigger aid packages.
But experts caution it would be just as unseemly to rate nations on how much money they have handed over, especially as rehabilitation projects are continuing.
"The biggest gap was Australia and it was for the best of reasons. It was a huge pledge and a lot of this was meant to be long-term," said David Roodman, a US scholar who runs the Commitment to Development Index ranking the world's rich donors.
"It wouldn't make sense to argue that all the aid should come in the first 12 months," Roodman said.
Still, the staggering aid promises raise questions about intentions. Unlike most donors, Australia allows tsunami aid to go to areas of Indonesia that were not hit by the giant waves, said Tim O'Connor of Australian lobby Aid Watch.
"What they (the Australian government) have done is to use the tsunami to get them a bit of leverage and now have made better friends of the Indonesian government," O'Connor said.
Medical charity Doctors Without Borders has gone so far as to redirect some of the contributions for tsunami relief to what it called "forgotten crises" such as those in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Darfur and Niger.
UN relief chief Jan Egeland, in a recent interview with AFP in New York, denied that the tsunami diverted funds and noted that aid for Africa has risen in recent years.
However for the tsunami, generosity was exceptional. Japan gave 24 million dollars after the Kashmir earthquake, less than five percent its tsunami aid package. Germany, Europe's biggest economy, pledged 38 million dollars for Kashmir compared with 129 million dollars sent for the tsunami, according to UN figures.
The United States, keen to nurture ties with both India and Pakistan which bitterly dispute the Himalayan territory, topped the Kashmir donors list at 172 million dollars.
While the 74,300 dead in the October earthquake is one-third the toll of the tsunami, the United Nations has warned that reaching survivors in mountainous Kashmir is a far more complicated task than relief on the devastated but flat Indian Ocean shores.
Muta, who analyzed the Japanese aid, said it was an unfortunate reality that donors looked at political interests -- and eventually ran short of money in the budget.
"I'm not saying Kashmir is not important to Japan, but other areas may have some priority," he said. "Southeast Asia is also very popular with tourists. There are no German tourists in Kashmir."
Roodman, the Washington-based scholar, said the tsunami struck an emotional chord in part because camcorder footage of the horror reached televisions worldwide.
"It's about how the human mind can filter and respond emotionally and feel we want to help others. That's a more fundamental and long-term problem of how donors respond to natural disasters," Roodman said.
One solution, he said, was to set up a sort of "bank account" for all disaster relief, instead of raising funds after each tragedy strikes.
"It's just absurd that the UN has to go begging in cases where days matter," Roodman said. "We need some sort of global fund so when there is something like the earthquake or the tsunami, the UN can immediately withdraw funds and get to work."All rights reserved. © 2005 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.