Tsunami survivors suffering £2bn aid shortfall

As graft and bureaucracy hamper efforts to help the worst-hit, the UN says full recovery is 10 years away
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The Independent Online

Three months after the Boxing Day tsunami slammed into 11 countries around the Indian Ocean, killing at least 300,000 people and setting off unprecedented generosity from the public, financial compensation for the victims is lagging and the United Nations says full recovery is likely to take another 10 years.

Three months after the Boxing Day tsunami slammed into 11 countries around the Indian Ocean, killing at least 300,000 people and setting off unprecedented generosity from the public, financial compensation for the victims is lagging and the United Nations says full recovery is likely to take another 10 years.

Now there is a shortfall of more than £2bn in donations which were pledged during the initial outpouring of sympathy, according to the Asian Development Bank. Volunteer accountants who can detect cooked books are much in demand; two major firms donated free staff hours to help the UN track aid money.

Thousands of foreign troops have long since completed tours of humanitarian duty in Sri Lanka and Indonesia, yet the horrors of this sudden and capricious disaster linger. Preventive action staved off epidemics that could have doubled the deaths near the disaster epicentre of Banda Aceh, and malnutrition was averted through food rations supplied to 1.75 million vulnerable people across the region, but life is nowhere near normal for most victims.

Many show signs of post-traumatic stress at the sudden destruction of so much life and property. Gradually, new fishing boats and nets are finding their way to stricken communities, but keeping up morale inside inadequate refugee camps frays the nerves and erodes any sense of dignity. Last month one woman living among 64 families in a windowless schoolhouse in Moratuwa, Sri Lanka, was found hoarding drugs in order to commit suicide. "There's very little for us to live for at the moment ... it's been nearly three months now with nothing", Talika Peris, wife of a former carpenter, told The Independent on Sunday. She despairs that prostitution, drugs and alcoholism are taking hold amid the post-tsunami poverty.

Government soldiers are posted at Big School Camp to intervene when fights break out. Last month, a woman stabbed her husband in the arm for trying to sell her gold necklace to buy food.

"How am I expected to raise a healthy baby here?," asks Kanchana Kolshalya, 20, as she bathes her daughter Patumi in a trickle from the camp's leaking water tank. A replacement would cost less than £100, but no one here has the money. There's only one toilet for more than 500 people. As the hot season approaches when temperatures will rise to 40C, there's only enough water for two litres each a day - barely one-third of what is required.

While December's huge waves crippled 65 per cent of the Sri Lankan fishing fleet and wrecked more than 100,000 island homes, things were even worse in Indonesia's Aceh province, where 44 per cent of the residents lost their livelihoods. Graft and bureaucracy have hampered recovery efforts where the losses are greatest.

International tourism in the Maldives, Sri Lanka, southern Thailand and even Malaysia has dropped precipitously. Ghosts must be laid to rest before free-spending visitors from China and Taiwan venture back.

Meanwhile, people cooped up for 90 days in tent cities from Thailand to Tamil Nadu complain about rezoning schemes that are likely to allow the rich to grab prime beachfront properties.

Oxfam recently concluded that up to four times more women than men perished in December's earthquake-triggered waves, and they warn that this gender imbalance is already having grave consequences. Single female or newly widowed survivors are extremely vulnerable to abuse, while indigent new widowers are hard pressed to remarry and start a new family. Survivors in tsunami- battered outposts say they long to hear the chatter and laughter of the missing women, and life without home cooking or cuddles is a misery.

One promising development is the Indonesian military's completion of a major trunk road last week. Using elephants and coconut tree scaffolding, troops rebuilt 35 of the 41 bridges that were knocked out by the massive walls of water which left corpses in the trees. Until now, aid groups have been forced to transport relief supplies by helicopter or ferry. It may take weeks before 20-ton supply trucks can rumble along this route. New government restrictions have forced some foreign relief agencies to begin pulling out from Aceh on Friday.

Elsewhere, volunteers have been vital to dig out the rubble while government agencies dither. Thailand's Phi Phi Island has witnessed a bizarre revival, as hundreds of foreign backpackers and scuba divers arrive to rebuild the packed guesthouse and nightclub strip that was pulverised by December's waves. Almost 1,400 people died on the tiny holiday islet, when those who ran from the wall of water bearing down on the pier at Tonsai Bay were swallowed by another three-storey-high wave coming the opposite way.

The Paradise Found Project funded by friends and family of Matthew McConnish, a young British diver who was swept away, arranges all-work holidays to restore the region to its former glories. The ill-fated resort was made famous, of course, by The Beach.

For his part, its star, Leonardo DiCaprio, rather than plugging his last release, The Aviator, directs visitors to his website straight to the Unicef Tsunami appeal.

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