Activists decry ‘diversion’ of aid

Published September 1, 2005

Some donations given by Canadians for the victims of last December’s tsunami have in a perverse way ended up contributing to human rights violations in Aceh, Indonesia and funding so-called reconstruction projects that benefit big businesses instead of intended beneficiaries in Sri Lanka, two activists have claimed.

Sarath Fernando, co-secretary of the Movement for National and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) in Sri Lanka, and Evi Narti Zain, co-ordinator of Kontras Aceh, The Commission for Disappearances and Victims of Violence, have urged Canadians to be more vigilant in determining how their donations are being used by recipient governments and other institutions. (MONLAR is a non-governmental organization partner of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, the Anglican Church of Canada’s relief and development agency, while Kontras Aceh is a partner of the Canadian ecumenical justice group, Kairos.)

“We are moved by your generosity but we realize that we have a serious responsibility not only to express our gratitude but to report on what’s been happening,” said Mr. Fernando in a recent briefing in Toronto. “What’s happening is not something we’re happy about. Government has decided to use the money (intended for tsunami relief and rehabilitation) for something else.”

Canadian tsunami donations, which the federal government had promised to match dollar for dollar, totaled about $145 million in early January 2005.

According to Mr. Fernando, the Sri Lankan government has been planning and implementing the post-tsunami reconstruction process “without any input from the people, especially the victims.”

He said that people’s organizations have been clamoring for the creation of a “people’s planning commission” that would determine the shape and direction of the post-tsunami reconstruction process. Instead, government formed a task force, “which decided that the whole nation needs to be rebuilt,” said Mr. Fernando. “The task force is composed of powerful business people and eight out of 10 own tourism-related businesses.”

About 300,000 Sri Lankans, a majority of them fisher folk and rural residents, lost their livelihood when the tsunami struck parts of Asia last Dec. 26; more than 30,000 Sri Lankans lost their lives.

Meanwhile, Andrea Mann, the Anglican Church of Canada’s regional mission co-ordinator for Asia, South Pacific and the Middle East, assured Canadian Anglicans that the disbursement of funds for tsunami relief and rehabilitation by Anglicans and ecumenical relief groups in Sri Lanka has been “effective and transparent.” Ms. Mann, who visited tsunami-devastated areas in the southwest, south and eastern coasts of Sri Lanka last March, said “some might argue that funds have been disbursed too slowly but our partners have taken great care in establishing systems and structures to ensure accountability.”

In Indonesia, Ms. Zain said that the emergency situation resulting from the tsunami, which killed close to 130,000 people, has created a space for the Indonesian military to pursue its operations in Aceh, giving rise to more human rights violations. A civil war between government and the Free Aceh Movement, which is fighting for independence, has been raging since 1976 in Aceh, located in the northernmost part of the island of Sumatra.


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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