Six months after the tsunami

Despite the massive fundraising operation for the tsunami victims, and almost six months after the disaster, hundreds of thousands of people are still living in temporary camps across south Asia. Rebuilding work in many of the affected countries has only just begun. Last month the new head of reconstruction in Aceh, Indonesia, declared how shocked he was at the lack of progress: "The British people gave £340 million. Worldwide more than £4.7 billion was pledged in an unprecedented display of generosity. But not all those pledges have been kept, and the disbursement of those funds that have materialised has been choked by the usual pitfalls of developing countries - red tape, internal conflict, political disputes, incompetence and corruption" (C Philp, D McGrory, J Bone, R Lloyd Parry, www.times-online.co.uk, May 12). Tsunami-related graft was predicted back in January by Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW), one of several non-profit groups that campaign against such practices. ICW's Luky Djanj stated: "Based on our experience, corruption in disaster recovery programmes in Indonesia is rampant ... We're expecting corruption in Aceh because there is so much aid coming into the province. So far, no tsunami-related graft has been reported in Sri Lanka or India, but activists warn that it is only a matter of time" (The Boston Globe January 6). In Aceh 168,000 died in the tsunami. Almost 600,000 were made homeless, of whom an estimated 188,000 are still living in camps. Around 109,000 are staying with friends and relatives and 70,000 have been allocated to government-supplied wooden barracks. "It's shocking - very limited things have been done for the poor people," said Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, head of the newly formed Aceh Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency (ibid). Aceh, said by some to be the most corrupt province in Indonesia, received $6 billion in aid following the tsunami. BBC correspondent Rachel Harvey reported her suspicions of corruption in a large government project to house the hundreds of thousands of people who were left homeless by the disaster. At one site near Banda Aceh, she found that the timber supporting the government-commissioned barracks was not attached to the concrete foundations. Evidence of cutting corners and use of substandard material was also found. Developers had plenty of scope to make extra profit through illegally cutting costs. Muktar Lufti, (a former civil servant) detailed widespread corruption within the construction industry. Interviewed by Harvey, he said: "Corruption in Aceh includes members of parliament, the executive, legislature and businessmen "¦ We call it 'elective corruption', and it's very difficult to expose." An example Lufti gave was a road-building project in 2002. It was done so cheaply that it had to be rebuilt the following year ('Corruption challenge for Aceh aid - Project Hope in Banda Aceh', BBC website, May). In Sri Lanka there are up to a million people who still remain homeless. Not one of them has been rehoused According to reporters Graham Johnson and Neil Atkinson, "The tsunami cash stays in the bank, draining away onto the black market or spent on aid agencies' fancy offices. Meanwhile, the refugees suffer. The rebuilding project has ground to a halt amid chaos. Hundreds of thousands are still living among the rubble" (Sunday Mirror May 15). Foreign aid organisations are said to be "concerned" as the slow progress being made. They feel local bureaucracy has prevented them from getting things done. The same article claimed the government in Thailand has rejected aid donations and most foreign agencies. However, property developers are being allowed to grab prime resort land along the beach and force families previously living there into makeshift camps. Meanwhile, in India, there are thousands of people languishing in camps in Tamil Nadu. They are still waiting for compensation so they can start to rebuild their homes. Back in January the Weekly Worker warned that most of the aid that was channelled through government-sponsored agencies would end up reinforcing power structures that keep much of the world's population in dismal poverty. We called for aid/solidarity to be given along class lines: for money to be raised by working class organisations and sent to appropriate trade unions, working class and peasant women's groups, leftwing political parties and campaigns, etc. Such aid/solidarity can be used to support the forces of democracy and the working class, not strengthen existing power structures and relations of dependence, or be siphoned off by corrupt bureaucrats. Historically we have fine examples of working class aid/solidarity. In 1922 the Soviet-backed Red Aid organised financial and in-kind donations for revolutionaries subjected to counter-revolutionary terror in eastern Europe, and for besieged Nicaragua when the US marines invaded it in the late 1920s. More recently, collections in support of the miners' Great Strike of 1984-85 witnessed such an approach in practice. Aid/solidarity given along class lines will strengthen the struggle of working class, democratic and anti-imperialists forces as part of the struggle for a totally different global order. Michelle Euston Related articles: * Historic con trick * Aid, debt and fair trade * What's wrong with Live8? * What's wrong with Make Poverty History?