By Sebastien Berger, South East Asia Correspondent
The British Government has the worst record for honouring pledges to help to rebuild the area worst affected by the Boxing Day tsunami, it emerged yesterday.
As the second anniversary of the disaster approaches, the Government has only given a fifth of the money it pledged to the biggest international consortium working in the Indonesian province of Aceh. Entire villages along hundreds of miles of Aceh’s coast were swept away by waves caused by an underwater earthquake and 168,000 people were killed.
At the time of the disaster the Government was taken by surprise by the public reaction.
Initially it made only small pledges of aid, until embarrassment at the scale of donations from the public — Daily Telegraph readers alone raised £5.9 million — forced it to act.
The Government promised nearly £65 million to the Multi-Donor Trust Fund for Aceh and Nias, a co-ordinating body set up by the World Bank to handle governmental and inter-governmental aid to the area.
This made Britain the third largest donor to the fund behind the European Commission and the Netherlands.
But almost two years later, according to figures from the World Bank, the Government has paid in only 20.7 per cent of the promised amount.
No other donor has paid in a lower share of its pledges. Holland, which promised $100 million, has paid it all, while Denmark, Norway, Canada, Sweden, the United States and Ireland have all delivered their entire, albeit smaller, promised sums.
One staff member at the fund said: “I don’t see why the Government would not transfer the money.”
A spokesman for the Department for International Development, which handles all Britain’s tsunami aid, said yesterday that the delay was due to extended discussions on how much the fund needed and the “right amount to spend in the right way”. “This was committed a long time ago but we have been figuring out the final details,” he said.
“The money is being transferred at the moment. We expect it to be there in January.”
The fund has 15 active projects, including road and bridge repairs, environmental protection, and building at least 19,000 houses in both Aceh and Nias, the island hit by a second great earthquake in March 2005.
The bulk of the Government’s other tsunami aid, which amounted to nearly £200 million for projects throughout South East Asia, was spent in the immediate emergency relief phase.
Indonesia received £55 million; Sri Lanka £16 million, India £3 million; and the Maldives £1.6 million.
A total of £41 million is also being spent over 10 years to repay some of Sri Lanka’s debt to the World Bank, £5.7 million of which has already been disbursed.
In the wake of the disaster, the British Government co-ordinated the charity response through the Disaster Emergency Committee. In the immediate days following the tsunami the response from the public was overwhelming.
The committee offices had 3,000 telephone lines which were nearly permanently engaged. At their height, donations ran at more than £20,000 a minute.
There was a wide range of other activities. In Cardiff nearly £1.25 million was raised through a charity concert at the Millennium Stadium. It was the biggest aid concert held in Britain since Live Aid. Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, claimed that British donors were far more generous than other countries.
“In Britain, giving per head amounted to £1.65, compared to an estimated 43p in France and an estimated 58p in the United States,” he said.