Aid pours in: Can govt. handle it alone?
Expatriate Sri Lankans concerned over where their donations will end up
As aid poured into Sri Lanka, the government was still grappling with problems of co-ordination, and ensuring that the right people received the right relief.

Thousands of overseas Sri Lankans rallied round the cause turning viharas, churches, kovils and mosques, as well as community halls and people's residences into collecting centres - but there was one hitch, the government missions were insisting that all relief will be sent only to the President's Fund Disaster Relief Centre.

Several Sri Lankans have expressed unhappiness over Sri Lankan missions being given this directive from Colombo saying that if they did not have confidence in the relief material, including medicines and funds reaching the end-beneficiaries intended in the exercise, they should be given the option of more private channels through which they could send relief.

Among those who have taken issue is SMIES, a well-known Baptist Church organisation which says it does not mind giving a portion of its collections to the President's Office, but it has its own local contacts in Sri Lanka who are victims, and would like to look after them.

The organisation has 40 tonnes of clothing earlier ear-marked for East Europe now awaiting transportation to Sri Lanka, but caught up with these directives from Colombo.

In Colombo, SriLankan Airlines spokesman Chandana de Silva said the national carrier was willing to transport relief cargo free-of-charge, but with large consignments piling up at Bangkok, Singapore, Dubai and London airports awaiting transportation to Colombo, it may have to reconsider its decision shortly.

However, in London Sri Lankans were complaining that the airline was only accepting cargo sent via the High Commission. Other airlines such as Ethihad and Qatar had also given selected agents the right to send cargo gratis.

Many freight forwarding associations were offering free space in their containers, but some were announcing they would limit the cargo to those 'that will be distributed by those appointed by the President'.

The question being asked was whether, considering the magnitude of the problem Sri Lanka was facing, the Colombo government alone could handle all the relief coming from abroad.

In the US, Sri Lanka's Ambassador Devinda Subasinghe was calling for contributions to private NGOs. This raised a protest from officials in the Foreign Ministry, but the envoy explained this was done because those who contribute to US-based NGOs can get tax exemptions, while they do not receive that benefit if they contribute direct to the Government of Sri Lanka.

In London, the British public has collected over 100 million pounds ( Rs. 20 billion ) through media appeals for victims of the tsunami in the South Asian region. Meanwhile the Katunayake airport was finding it difficult to cope with the incoming aid flights with the authorities failing to providing them additional landing space.

Some 70 aircraft were held up in other countries awaiting permission for landing, Airport and Aviation Authority sources said. But, aviation sources pointed out that if the adjoining Katunayake Air Force base had been able to provide landing facilities it would have expedited the unloading of aid.

"There is a possibility some of this aid being diverted to other countries affected by the tsunami", the sources added. Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) has given Sri Lanka food valued at US $ 2.2 million, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) released relief items valued at US $ 380,000, UNICEF has brought medical kits for 15 hospitals to service the needs of 150,000 people for three months, and the UNFPA has committed US $ 250,000, the WHO has provided 900,000 water purification tablets, and the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has allocated US $ 50,000. Other UN agencies such as the UNDP, ADB, IOM and FAO were also chipping in with assistance, a release from the UN said.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said that he was 'satisfied' with the response from the world community after a UN relief official had stated that Western countries were 'stingy' in helping developing countries. UN Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland had earlier said the catastrophe in the Indian Ocean would require bigger levels of aid by rich countries.

He had said that at Christmas time at least, these Western countries should remind themselves how rich they have become. The US Embassy stated that US $ 2.5 million has been given to Sri Lanka through USAID as emergency assistance apart from other assistance, including 30 US military planning and logistics personnel.

According to the Foreign Ministry so far over 55 countries have come forth with aid. The goods and personnel received include helicopters, aircraft, inflatable craft, special task forces, medical experts, medicines and other medical items, tents, blankets, plastic sheets, water treatment material, generators, etc.

A large number of foreign medical personnel and rescue teams have also arrived in Sri Lanka. "It is difficult to evaluate the worth of the material goods we have received, yet over Rs. 400 million have been received in cash," a ministry official said.

As some governments had allocated aid for all the affected countries, she said, it is still not clear how much will be received by Sri Lanka alone. When asked who the most generous donor was so far, she replied, "It is unfair to say anything as every act of generosity is equally appreciated."

According to Swiss ambassador Bernardino Regaezzoni the government of Switzerland has committed US $ 22 million as funds for all the countries affected. Two teams have been dispatched to the affected areas in Sri Lanka to assess the damage.

"Goods in various forms to the value of 400,000 Swiss francs have arrived here already" he said. What is significant however is that the donor countries include some that were themselves affected by the disaster. As a symbolic gesture, countries such as Malaysia, Maldives, Bangladesh and Indonesia have reached out to help the victims of Sri Lanka.

A number of private organisations in the country ran campaigns to collect funds and various relief items for the victims with television and radio stations informing the public of the urgent needs of the victims.

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