Australia's 'generous' tsunami aid questioned


Tim O'Connor

As little as $125 million of the pledged $1 billion in funds pledged by the Australian government for tsunami relief is going to the tsunami-ravaged province of Aceh according to the World Bank.

Joe Lietman, manager of the World Bank Multi Donor Trust Fund for tsunami relief in Aceh, said on August 19 that "it's really maybe an eighth of the initial pledge that will actually go to the people of Aceh".

Lietman explained: "It'd be good to look at the Australian contribution, and maybe ask where it's going, because the initial public impression was 'Oh, it's a billion dollars for Aceh'. When you dissect that, half of it is soft loans that the government may or may not take up, but they certainly don't need for Aceh, and then the $500-million in grants — only less than a quarter of that will go to Aceh, and the remainder will go to pursue broader strategic interests of the Indonesian and Australian governments, throughout Indonesia."

Australian government spokesperson Bruce Billson contradicted the World Bank. "Some of the assistance and a large proportion of that funding is going directly into the immediate Banda Aceh area, but other assistance is designed to benefit Banda Aceh but would have broader positive outcomes for Indonesia as a whole", he said.

The government's refusal to nominate the precise quantity and geographic location of where tsunami funds are being used appears to give some substance to the World Bank claims.

How much is really getting to Aceh? According to Aid Watch research, just $50 million of the $1 billion has been allocated to Aceh while other funds totalling $175 million have been allocated to other parts of Indonesia.

Aid Watch is calling on the Australian government to come clean with the exact amount it plans to dedicate to Aceh where Australian taxpayers — who fund the Australian aid program — believe the $1 billion was dedicated.

For more information phone Aid Watch on (02) 9557 8944.

From Green Left Weekly, August 31, 2005.
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