January 05, 2005

The Grubby Politics of Aid

Maggie's Pants returns from a short New Year hiatus to find that not only has our esteemed leader finally bothered to get off the beach and announce his most (in)sincere shock at the scale of the Asian tsunami but that everyone has been squabbling over who gets to control the aid. Those in power - the US, the United Nations, the EU - couldn't agree on who should co-ordinate the massive task of distributing the $2bn worth of aid pledged so far.

The US, as usual, wanted to muscle everyone out with their 'aid coalition'. Because they care so much no doubt. Or perhaps because they see a strategic advantage in tying aid to the world's largest Muslim country to additional co-operation from the Jakarta government? Might also help rebuild the US' tarnished reputation. The usual US strategy; the big stick and the fat wallet. The EU has been talking a good game, attending the usual meetings and as usual, showing themselves as utterly irrelevant. The UN, who should be co-ordinating the effort as the only organisation with the relevant structure and experience to do it, has been acting like a naughty little schoolboy sent to the classroom corner. Kofi Annan has been critically wounded the US' actions over the last 18 months it seems. Fortunately someone in the Bush administration seems to have finally taken their medication and has come round to the view that the UN needs to take a key role. Something to do with the US troops now in place in key aid areas anyway no doubt. All this diverts attention from the aid effort of course and more importantly ensuring that the pledged money turns into cold hard cash. Bam - the Iranian city devastated by a Boxing Day earthquake in 2003 - has seen only 1% of the promised donations turn into actual aid on the ground. Aid pledges as a PR exercise - the saddest thing is that it's not a surprise.