Asian Disaster Response: Governments caught out by publicgenerosity

Indira Das-Gupta

After a shaky start, charities have been encouraged by the UK Government's response to the tsunami disaster, but remain cautious.

"It's still early days and there will be a need for an ongoing dialogue with the governments of rich countries to ensure that they don't forget poor people's needs," said a spokeswoman for Cafod.

A Christian Aid spokesman added: "We are encouraged by the Government's statements, but want to see them turned into hard cash."

After initially pledging just £1m, the Government was quickly embarrassed into increasing the figure to £15m, then £50m after public donations topped £70m. Tony Blair then claimed that government aid would rise to "several hundred million pounds" over the next few weeks, although he would not give a precise figure.

Crucially, neither Blair nor Chancellor Gordon Brown has called for third world debt to be cancelled, although they have proposed "debt relief". But the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, attacked the idea of a debt moratorium, reasoning that the debt is not owed by the people who need help most. A final decision on whether to call an official moratorium is expected to be made today at a meeting of the Paris Club of wealthy creditor nations.

The US has also been accused of being less than generous. President Bush initially only promised $15m (£8m), prompting the New York Times to run an editorial: "Are we stingy? Yes." The amount was increased, first to $35m (£18.6m), then $350m (£186m).

Both the US and UK still lag behind Australia, which has pledged £727m over five years, and Germany, which has promised £359m. As governments around the world out-pledge each other, an EU official said the situation was in danger of turning into a "beauty contest".

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