Almost three months after the South Asian tsunami, which--according to latest numbers--has killed 286,000 and left 1.6 million homeless, the tidal wave of disaster reports in the mainstream media has slowed down to a trickle. Apparently, so have the relief efforts: The Sri Lankan government says that, even though it received $1 billion in relief pledges, less than $40 million have been converted into cash so far. To pay for reconstruction, the officials state, more than $500 million is needed in 2005 alone.

However, there might be a reason that relief monies funneled to the Sri Lankan government seem to come in slowly: The administration is widely perceived as corrupt. Only last week, two senior civil servants were arrested for siphoning off funds meant to help tsunami survivors. "Central Bank figures show that Sri Lanka... has received about 600 million dollars in private transfers from individuals such as Sri Lankans and other foreigners abroad," says the Khaleej Times, a UAE newspaper. "That money has gone into private organizations handling tsunami relief and not into government coffers."

While financial donations from individuals and charities across the world have greatly helped to mitigate the worst effects of the tsunami, some donors seem clueless as to what is really needed in the disaster zones.

In a February article, the Wall Street Journal reported that tsunami aid workers are drowning in material donations that create more work than they help. The bewildering gifts range from moisturizing gel, blow dryers and thong underwear to "cozy winter hats" and Arctic-weather tents.

According to WSJ, Impakt Aid, a Sri Lankan aid group, received two dozen goose-down jackets from a European relief agency. Qantas Airways contributed 5,000 pajama tops, "but with no bottoms to go with them." A Greek church charity stands out as a strong candidate for the 'Most Nonsensical Donation Award'; the multiple boxes they sent include fur coats and carnival wigs, perhaps to cheer up Sri Lankans in their misery.

There has been a multitude of donated medications as well--but instead of much-needed antibiotics and other life-saving drugs, a fair share of Valium, antidepressants, and Viagra has found its way to the agencies. Following the donors' logic, one could argue that homeless people are bound to be depressed, which in turn can lead to a lack of sexual desire... doubtlessly a major problem tsunami victims have to deal with.

One group of survivors does appreciate the strange gifts, however: Near a Sri Lankan mosque, the WSJ reporter found children who "spent their free time... doing back flips and somersaults over a knee-deep bed of hand-me- downs. The children tied a shawl around a rafter so they could swing around in the air before dropping onto the soiled laundry below." Comment from 10- year-old Mohamad Afral: "Clothes are really good to play in."

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Posted 03-07-2005 8:40 PM by Doug Casey