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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 82

In the heat of US NGO pledges, Bill Clinton visits Tsunami-devastated South Asia Region to accelerate recovery

Daya Gamage – US National Correspondent Asian Tribune

Washington, D.C. 01 December ( U.S. president Bill Clinton as the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery is now in the tsunami-affected Asian Region in the heat of positive pledges he received in October by major U.S. non-governmental organizations to accelerate the recovery process of 14 countries which lost 230,000 lives leaving 1.7 million homeless and destroying schools, hospitals, government buildings and other structures devastating the livelihood of millions.

Chairing the UN recovery efforts, Clinton was focusing the rehabilitation of all 14 countries despite his current visit is confined to Tamil Nadu in South India, Phuket in Thailand and Aceh province in Indonesia.

With the slogan "Building Back Better," the former American president is now (December 1) in Tamil Nadu where he is scheduled to visit a badly devastated village to see a new housing complex constructed for fishermen whose homes were destroyed by the tsunami and a rehabilitated school. Reviewing progress on disaster risk reduction, he will also visit a cyclone shelter with a newly installed early warning system and witness an early warning test and mock drill. The former President of United States of America, Mr. Bill Clinton calls on the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, in New Delhi on November 30, 2006.The former President of United States of America, Mr. Bill Clinton calls on the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, in New Delhi on November 30, 2006.

On the morning of 2 December, President Clinton will be in Phuket, Thailand where he will visit a small sea gypsy community whose members have begun to rebuild their livelihoods and housing through a community driven process.

On the afternoon of 2 December, President Clinton will be in Aceh province in Indonesia. He will visit one of the barrack sites built by the government of Indonesia to serve as a temporary home for people displaced by the December 2004 tsunami. He will then visit a transitional shelter site, run by the Australian Red Cross, an example of the extraordinary effort by a coalition of international partners and the government to move all people in Aceh and Nias out of tents. Bill Clinton as the Special Envoy pressed hard for implementation of this program through which over 14,000 durable transitional shelters have now been constructed throughout Aceh. The shelters are providing accommodations for those who had formally lived in tents and are awaiting permanent homes. There are around 200 shelters at the site President Clinton will visit, housing around 900 people.

President Clinton will then visit a recently completed school and permanent homes in a community that was devastated by the tsunami.

The former American president will conclude his visit to Aceh in Indonesia, the most populous (240 million) Muslim nation in the world which is located far away from the volatile Middle East, by meeting with local government representatives and former Aceh Freedom Movement (GAM) combatants, to review the positive impact on recovery of the Aceh peace process. The Special Envoy will deliver remarks about the progress in Aceh and the importance of sustainable efforts to build back better, of which the peace process is a crucial component.

This is former president Bill Clinton’s final visit to the tsunami affected region as the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery. But during the year, Clinton met a whole range of leaders of American NGOs, UN agencies, representatives of other governments and agencies of US government to accelerate the tsunami recovery program in the Asian Region.

The following is the account of his endeavor to get U.S. non-governmental organizations to vigorously incorporate in the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the 14 nations affected by the deadly December 2004 tsunami:

Leading U.S.-based nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) at an October 31 meeting in New York presented former U.S. President Bill Clinton, the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, with a series of major reports on "lessons learned" from their work on tsunami recovery. At the New York meeting, the NGOs also committed to key reforms to improve their aid programs in the tsunami affected region and around the world.

At a major NGO meeting in Washington last April, President Clinton challenged the NGO community to review roadblocks that U.S. and international NGOs have long confronted in responding to disasters, but which were brought into starker relief in the context of tsunami recovery. Over the past six months, nine leading NGOs have led a consultative process to review their work in promoting accountability to affected populations; enhancing coordination of assistance; strengthening local capacity; protecting human rights in the recovery process; and ensuring NGO professionalism. The reviews involved field consultations with local civil society and government officials in Banda Aceh, Sri Lanka and Chennai, and in-depth analyses of reform efforts already underway in the U.S. and Europe. To promote broad endorsement of the findings, the U.S. NGOs also held a number of discussions in Europe with a consultative committee, formed of leading European, Australian, and Asian NGOs and NGO networks.

"More than one-third of the $13 billion in donor funding for tsunami recovery was raised by the NGOs and the Red Cross Movement, and international NGOs have played a critical role in providing housing, promoting livelihoods and employment, developing microfinance, and ensuring accountability," said President Clinton. "But NGOs have also encountered obstacles to progress, which is why I was pleased that the NGO community accepted my challenge last April to examine its work in tsunami recovery."

Three key themes, and associated recommendations, emerged from the review. First, the NGOs emphasized the imperative of "building better partnerships" with affected populations, through accelerating efforts to recognize and promote the leadership of local communities, local aid groups and affected governments in recovery from major disasters, and by making the strengthening of local capacity in the aftermath of an emergency a priority equal to that of service delivery.

Second, the NGOs endorsed a quality assurance initiative, in which they will more aggressively promote the highest standards of professional conduct in NGO humanitarian response, and seek to develop a new mechanism to promote and verify optimal standards of NGO performance.

Third, the NGOs have issued a call for responsible giving. Noting the risk of seeking quick results that could not be achieved without sacrificing quality, the NGOs urged donors to support actions that reflect the best humanitarian and development practices, recognizing that recovery is a long-term process. The NGOs called for a concerted effort to educate the public and media on the components and nature of effective and sustainable disaster preparedness and response.

The NGOs have committed to a range of specific actions over the course of the next year to implement each of these recommendations. Commenting on NGO plans, President Clinton said, "I welcome the commitments that have been made today, and I look forward to working with the NGO community to ensure they are realized."

The nine U.S. NGOs that led this review are American Red Cross, CARE-U.S., International Medical Corps (IMC), International Rescue Committee (IRC), Mercy Corps, Plan USA, Save the Children-U.S., Refugees International, and World Vision.

- Asian Tribune -

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