Articulo The Economist. The Economist. 08/01/2005
Relief is getting through, mostly. Longer-term reconstruction will be more difficult
The world's response to the horrors wrought by the Indian Ocean tsunami has been extraordinary. As well as offering up their sympathy and prayers, people everywhere have dug deeper than ever into their pockets. The task now will be to make that generosity count, in an enduring way.
Even before George Bush senior and Bill Clinton buried their political differences to launch a presidential fund-raising effort on January 3rd, Americans had donated over $163m to charities involved in the tsunami relief effort; Germany's smaller population had given $200m. Such has been the public's generosity that in many countries—Britain being a notable example—governments have found themselves playing catch up, several times increasing their official aid to keep pace with charitable donations. A sort of contest has broken out among governments, as they pledge ever more aid—Germany's is currently promising $674m, Japan's $500m, Australia's $380m (plus the same again in loans), America's $350m and Norway's $182m—as well as relief-workers, soldiers, aircraft, food, medicines and more. Among the relative misers are Arab governments such as Saudi Arabia's ($30m), which have benefited from huge windfalls thanks to higher oil prices in 2004 and ought to want to help their fellow Muslims in Indonesia.
Politicians are also competing with initiatives to help rebuild the battered region after the initial relief effort. Gordon Brown, Britain's chancellor of the exchequer, has sparked a lively debate about the role that debt relief should play in financing the reconstruction. Other ideas will soon emerge following a summit in Jakarta in January 6th, as well as from various parts of the United Nations (UN).
All of which is entirely welcome: an uplifting start to the new year after the old one ended so badly. Even so, the response to the tsunami prompts some big, difficult questions. Will the money be well spent? Is it at the expense of other deserving causes and political priorities? If so, is that justified? Or, to be optimistic, might so much generosity actually reflect a change in the priorities of rich countries that could benefit all developing countries, not just those hit by the recent disaster?
The case for generosity
What is certain is that the response has already far exceeded that following other humanitarian crises—including some in which the loss of life has exceeded the 150,000 now thought to have been killed, such as Congo's war (perhaps 3m dead), or matched it, such as Bangladesh's cyclone in 1991 (140,000 dead). The aid so far promised to help the 5m or so people who have been directly affected by the tsunami is around $800 a head, well over 20 times the norm in previous international-aid allocations.
Some cynics attribute this unusually generous response from rich countries to the fact that so many tourists from those countries were killed. For some European countries, the tsunami cost more citizens their lives than any natural disaster in decades. But if the money meets genuine needs in the affected countries, who cares what motivates the giving?
A more valid concern is that, as on previous occasions, rich-country governments might fail to honour their promises once the public's attention moves on to other things—or that, if they do pay up, they will do so by diverting money from others in need of aid (see article). Likewise, the private donations may reflect the public changing how it distributes a more-or-less fixed pot of charitable cash, in which case other charities may suffer. Yet, encouragingly, donor governments have so far been at pains to promise that tsunami-related aid will not be at the expense of existing aid budgets. As for private charity, similar worries abounded after the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 prompted massive giving to help with the recovery effort; however, on the whole, charities did not suffer the slump in donations that had been feared.
To some extent, the unusually generous response to the tsunami crisis may reflect a widespread, and largely justified, belief in rich countries that their money is more likely to be spent well on relieving natural disasters than on man-made humanitarian crises such as those in Congo and Darfur—or, for that matter, on general development aid to the world's poorest countries. Ever since Live Aid 20 years ago failed to provide a lasting solution to an essentially man-made famine in Ethiopia, there has been a growing “aid fatigue” in many rich countries—except when a strong case can be made that aid will really make a difference in a particular situation. The tsunami relief seems to qualify. Most of the countries hit have governments that, for all their frailties, are functional and even democratic. Unlike the rulers of, say, Sudan, or indeed many of the world's poorest countries, these governments are not a primary cause of the crisis. The internal fighting in Indonesia and Sri Lanka pales beside that in the Congo and Sudan, and seems unlikely to be a significant obstacle to the relief effort.
Beyond the next few weeks and months
Yet although the relief effort seems to be going reasonably well given the enormous difficulties to be overcome, and governments and non-governmental organisations are working well together, some legitimate concerns have been raised about whether the global system for responding to humanitarian aid is as efficient as it could be. In particular, the somewhat ponderous initial response has reinforced the case for an emergency rapid-response capability, consisting of soldiers, equipment, medical staff and others in a number of countries all over the world, doing their normal jobs but earmarked for despatch when a disaster occurs. Moreover, the UN's difficulty last week in offering speedy co-ordination showed that that issue too needs attention.
Then there is the even trickier question of what longer-term development assistance to offer tsunami-affected countries. Debt relief, as proposed by Mr Brown, may not be what these countries need or want in the long run, though a holiday from interest payments would be a quick and easy way to improve their cash flow in the next few months. After all, these countries are not among the poorest in the developing world, and their debt levels are not especially onerous. India has actually declined outside help. One, Myanmar, has the sort of nasty, ineffective government that would anyway prevent it from qualifying for debt relief were it located in Africa.
Ironically, before the tsunami struck, aid and development were already scheduled to dominate this year's international policymaking agenda. Momentum was building for significant changes, including more aid, debt write-offs and, crucially, further trade liberalisation (see article). However, these efforts in 2005 were expected to be focused largely on African countries, not Asian ones, which were mostly thought to be moving beyond needing such assistance. Indeed, it is the progress made over the past few decades by Asian countries, both in political and economic performance, that provides the strongest grounds for expecting that the money donated by the outside world will be spent well, and that the region will soon be recovering strongly. The aim must be that this likely success should not divert attention from humanitarian and development needs elsewhere, but instead be used to inspire even greater efforts to tackle them too.
Fuente: The Economist