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UN: tsunami rebuilding slow; scandals possible
Updated: 2005-05-13 09:15

Rebuilding tsunami-ravaged Asia is extremely slow, the United Nations warned as global business leaders met for the first time since the December 26 tragedy to devise swift reconstruction plans with governments.

The one-day "private sector summit on post-tsunami rehabilitation and reconstruction" in Washington was also warned about the prospect of corruption derailing resettlement of thousands of people made homeless by the disaster.

"The reconstruction effort is still too slow," lamented Jan Egeland, the UN emergency relief coordinator.

"I am concerned with people in the displacement camps that it (reconstruction) is going slower than they had expected to get back to their homes, their livelihood," he told reporters at the conference.

Egeland, the UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, also urged governments to be transparent in awarding multi-million-dollar reconstruction projects to avoid corruption scandals as were evident in post-war Iraq.

Although "the realities" of the tsunami disaster and the Iraq war were different, both cases involved massive rebuilding and large contracts.

"We have to make sure that it is transparent and accountable as can be," he said.

"What we cannot afford is any kind of scandals (and) money going into the wrong direction or into the wrong pockets because we had such unprecedented generosity and such unprecedented needs," he added.

Former US President George H. W. Bush, who together with his successor Bill Clinton helped spearhead efforts to drum up financial support for the tsunami rebuilding efforts, said "all contributions must get to their ultimate destination with no corruption of any kind in between."

"And any gifts tainted with corruption, or ripping off, I can assure you it is going to do irreparable harm, irreparable damage to America's ability to respond to future crises," Bush said, amid applause from participants.

Some corporate donors have been reluctant to release funds to tsunami-hit economies because of a lack of firm action plans with guarantees of transparency, officials told the conference.

Ministers from Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Maldives assured the 300 business leaders attending the conference that all reconstruction projects would be undertaken in a transparent manner to avoid any suspicion of graft.

More than 200,000 people were killed, almost all in Asia, after an earthquake off Indonesia's northwest coast triggered massive tidal waves that wreaked destruction in 11 Indian Ocean countries.

Banda Aceh alone had almost 129,000 confirmed deaths.

Egeland said although national governments were taking the lead in the rebuilding process, they should form "effective partnerships" with local authorities, international financial institutions and non-governmental organizations to speed up recovery.

US companies have pledged 530 million dollars in tsunami relief aid, making up the bulk of the global private-sector contribution of up to two billion dollars.

The US government had also pledged nearly a billion dollars, also making up a key component of the estimated six billion dollars pledged by public sources across the globe.

Egeland said except for Sri Lanka, all the tsunami-hit economies had devised master plans for reconstruction, in which the international community could participate. Sri Lanka was expected to complete its plan later this month.

Clinton described the current period as the "roughest" since the disaster struck due to problems hampering financial aid flows to the ground.

He said he would return to the tsunami-hit region soon to help remove some of the "roadblocks" hampering speedy recovery.

Clinton cautioned that the monsoon period was approaching in Asia and efforts had to be stepped up to resettle the thousands of homeless people currently living in tents.

Some 1.7 million people were made homeless by the tsunami.

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