Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Aid Groups' Next Task: Keeping World Engaged ; Government Pledges for Disaster Relief Are Often Delayed or Forgotten, Say Organizations

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Aid Groups' Next Task: Keeping World Engaged ; Government Pledges for Disaster Relief Are Often Delayed or Forgotten, Say Organizations

Article excerpt

For the victims of last year's flooding in the Philippines and Bangladesh, the United Nations estimated that $6.4 million would be needed. But only 5 percent of pledged donations have been delivered. In Grenada, last fall's hurricane victims have seen only 14 percent of a promised $27.6 million.

Could the same happen with Asia's tsunami-relief effort?

Relief organizations say they are bracing for the moment the news media drifts to other stories. If the past is a predictor, promises of aid will be delayed, diminished, or forgotten.

The Dec. 26 tsunami has already proved to be a history-defying event, with donations topping previous records. To date, the UN has received $717 million of the promised $4 billion from donor nations, and aid groups plan to harness the unprecedented public interest and involvement to keep pressure on donor governments over the long haul.

Still, garnering initial pledges represents only half the battle, say relief organizations. Sustaining the world's attention and keeping momentum going through the rebuilding process, they say, may be the stiffest challenge to any major relief effort.

"This is a big issue for us," says Elizabeth Griffin, director of media relations for Catholic Relief Services in Baltimore. "When a natural disaster strikes, and there is immediate media attention, then people get mobilized to act. When the media leaves, people think the problem has been resolved, but that is when our job begins."

The sad fact, Ms. Griffin says, is that aid groups are often working on several relief efforts at a time, some that get media attention, some that don't, but all of which have a profound impact on some of the world's poorest regions.

Just before the tsunami struck, Catholic Relief Services warned of a food-aid crisisas the US Congress had cut back food relief for disasters - in a year of massive need, from the flooding in the Philippines and Bangladesh to the war in Congo to the near genocide of refugees in the camps of Sudan's Darfur region.

Private aid groups like Catholic Relief Services, CARE international, Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam, and the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies are often among the first to respond to such tragedies. But private aid groups often cannot provide the comprehensive aid and reconstruction that a government or an institution like the World Bank can provide, experts say. …

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