Charities struggle to spend cash for tsunami

BRITISH charities admitted last night that they would struggle to spend the vast sums of money donated by the public to victims of the Asian tsunami.

More than £365 million has been raised in individual donations to tsunami relief in the six weeks since the Boxing Day disaster. More than 85 per cent of British adults have given something.

But the British Red Cross has told The Times that it may have difficulty responsibly spending the £60 million raised so far and is considering whether it can divert some money to other causes.

At least two other large British charities have privately admitted that they will have difficulty in allocating all the money received. However the charities fear that saying so publicly would result in a belief that they did not need donations in the future.

Oxfam has suspended its tsunami appeal after admitting that it has all the money it needs while Médecins Sans Frontières has offered donors their money back after it received more than three times the amount it had asked for.

The British Red Cross said that it wanted charities to be open and admit that it would be a challenge to spend all the money responsibly.

“In disasters like this, the most we generally get is $50 per affected person,” Matthias Schmale, international director of the British Red Cross, said. “That’s the rule of thumb. We are set up to spend that kind of money, but now we have $1,000 per affected person, so the difference is huge.

“We need to be honest and admit that this presents new challenges to us. The jury is out as to whether we can do it.”

He said that one solution might be for the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), comprising the 12 main British charities, to ask for the money to be used for other causes.

“This is only speculative, but a possibility might be for the DEC to go public jointly and say that this is the situation and we ask for your understanding that we might want to use the money for other disasters,” he said.

The problem has been caused by the huge response from both governments and charities. The UN has been promised around £3 billion by governments while both Thailand and India have refused large scale international assistance. An additional hurdle is that in Britain money raised by the DEC has to be spent within three years.

Herr Schmale said that it was impossible to say that there was “too much money”. However, difficulties of access to some of the worst affected areas, shortages of building materials, equipment and trained workers and the need to consult local people, governments and agencies, all limited the pace and scope of work in the short to medium term.

“We should be open to admit that it’s quite a challenge to come up with responsible spending plans for it all. Everyone has a lot of money as well and everyone is looking to spend their money in a responsible manner at the same time,” he said.

He added: “We have £60 million available to us. We feel confident that we can spend £40 million within the DEC limits of three years. We need to think through responsible means of spending the rest over a longer time period.” He said that the DEC would meet in late March or early April to consider how to spend the money. One possibility might be to consider diverting some money to the UN, he said.

Other leading British relief and development agencies admitted last night that they shared Herr Schmale’s concerns, although none is yet considering diverting tsunami funds to other parts of the world.,,18690-1483564,00.html
I was really impressed with the action of I think the DEC, a couple of weeks or so ago, contacting donors to ask if they wanted surplus donations returned or were happy for their donation to be diverted to other pressing emergency needs in Africa or elsewhere. Also in briefly running a well-presented TV advertisement thanking the public.

Not appropriate every time, but I think that approach was suitable in this case, and was in the long-term interests of overseas emergency needs in the future.
It just shows how generous we (as in the human race, not just brits) can be when we want to help out our fellow man. Long may it continue...

Let's just hope that they don't give the surplus direct to the Indonesian and Sri Lankan governments - there's long-running civil wars in both places, so no guessing where the money would end up (à la Ethiopia)... </cynic>

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