Aid money stuck in Sri Lanka – World Bank

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 25 May 2005, 04:46 GMT]
Aid money given to rebuild Sri Lanka after December's devastating tsunami is getting held up on the ground, to the frustration of governments and donors, World Bank Vice President Praful Patel told Reuters in an interview this week.

"There is impatience on the part of everybody, including the government and the donors, about the pace at which things are moving," said Mr. Patel, who visited Sri Lanka last week for a meeting to plan the country's post tsunami reconstruction.

"The frustrations come from the fact that the pledges that were made and the money that was made available are not moving fast enough on the ground," he said this week on the sidelines of a World Bank conference.

Hitches included a government ban on building close to the shoreline, intended as a safety precaution, Mr. Patel said.

"People who are on the shoreline are still waiting for their plots to be allocated elsewhere, and there are issues with some of them not wanting to move because they have lived for hundreds of years on this location," he said.

Patel said that the process of distributing the billions of aid dollars down to individuals could fuel corruption, but added that the government was committed to preventing this.

He said that the flood of aid money had also made life difficult for local non-governmental organisations, who were being crowded out by international newcomers.

More than a hundred NGOs set up offices in Sri Lanka shortly after the disaster, paying up to four times the local rate to attract staff, to the detriment of local groups, he said.

"Local NGOs were losing their staff, so their complaint was: instead of helping us to build capacity, they are actually weakening us," Patel said.

"When the immediate relief is done, the system cannot sustain these salaries, yet the expectations are changing."

Earlier this month the U.N.'s emergency relief coordinator also said post-tsunami rebuilding in general had been too slow and frustration was growing among displaced people.

Mr. Patel said most pledges from international donors had been converted into real commitments, so funding was not the issue.

At least $9 billion in private and official aid has been raised for countries battered by the tsunami in one of the biggest charitable fund-raising efforts in history. Donors have pledged $3 billion to Sri Lanka alone.

Donations have been so large that the head of the Sri Lanka's central bank has said the country might match or even beat last year's economic growth rate in spite of the disaster.

The chairman of Sri Lanka's tsunami reconstruction agency said this month the country should get so much aid it can spend some on non-tsunami projects such as alleviating poverty and rehabilitating parts of the island damaged by war.

The tsunami killed more than 180,000 people, with nearly 40,000 dead or presumed dead in Sri Lanka. It devastated much of the island's coastline, and 100,000 people are still living in tents and makeshift shelters nearly five months later.


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