The world's governments were urged yesterday to honour their financial pledges to countries hit by the tsunami, amid fears that the massive offers of aid will never materialise.
The United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, warned of a "race against time" to help victims of the disaster and criticised the international community for failing to deliver on promises of money in response to previous emergencies. Aid agencies and charities said that in some previous disasters only a third of the money pledged by foreign governments had been converted into hard cash.
The Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, insisted that Britain would honour its pledges, and said the Government did not want to enter into a "bidding war" with other countries over who could promise the most headline-grabbing financial aid.
At the end of an emergency conference on the tsunami held in Indonesia yesterday, Mr Annan said: "For the United Nations, it is the largest natural disaster the organisation has had to respond to on behalf of the world community in the 60 years of our existence. It requires an unprecedented global response - it is a race against time." However, he warned: "Many of the pledges have come to us in cash and in kind. We need the rest of the pledges to be converted into cash quickly. We have often had gaps in the past and I hope it is not going to happen in this case."
International governments have so far pledged more than $4bn (£2.2bn) in aid to Sri Lanka, Indonesia and other countries hit by the disaster. Charitable donations are separate to that.
Aid agencies cited examples of previous disasters in which governments failed to meet their initial pledges.
Of the $32m pledged by the international community in the immediate aftermath of the Bam earthquake in Iran in 2003, only $17.7m had been received a year later.
Foreign governments also pledged more than $9bn to the victims of Hurricane Mitch in 1998 but, a year later, only a third of that appeared, despite the storm affecting hundreds of thousands in many countries.
More than $400m was promised by governments to help rebuild Mozambique after floods four years ago, but less than half of the pledges were actually honoured.
Mr Annan said that nearly $1bn was needed immediately to cover the basic humanitarian needs of an estimated five million people affected by the tsunami over the next six months alone.
More than 150,000 are now known to have died in the disaster, and a World Health Organisation assessment has predicted that survivors could begin to die from dysentery and cholera unless they received clean water and other basic services by the end of this week.
As donations from the British public passed the £100m mark, Tony Blair said the Government would eventually donate "hundreds of millions of pounds". Britain has pledged more than £50m, with a further £40m promised for the suspension of debt relief. The EU has promised £73m in short-term and £252m in long-term relief.
However, sources at non-governmental organisations said the EU was one of the worst offenders in promising aid that never appeared. Judith Melby, international editor at Christian Aid, said: "There have been too many occasions where governments have pledged aid and it has not come through. All countries have been culpable in this. "The most important part of the aid operation has to be long-term rehabilitation - creating sustainable housing, restoring people's livelihoods. But we often find that a year later survivors are still living in temporary camps and governments are reluctant to raise taxes to pay for the money they pledged."
Oxfam's policy director, James Ensor, said the public would be "outraged" if government pledges were not honoured. He added: "Money pledged must be new money, not diverted from existing programmes."
Max Lawson, the charity's senior policy adviser, added: "History has shown us that pledge-making is consistently undervalued by governments delivering about half of what they promised."
HURRICANE, Central America 1998
FLOODS, Mozambique 2000
EARTHQUAKE, Bam, Iran 2003
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