'We must retain' tsunami funds

Nathalie Thomas

Aid agencies have hit back at the suggestion that they should repay any unspent government funding they received for their tsunami operations.

Conservative MP Edward Leigh, the chairman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said agencies should return funding to the public purse if their annual accounts showed it was still sitting in bank accounts. But charities have insisted that tsunami projects should not be rushed.

Aid agencies including the British Red Cross and Save the Children said that most of the government money had already been used, but urged politicians to remember that rebuilding entire cities can take years, and money was needed throughout that time.

"It is essential that aid agencies are held to account to ensure they are spending donated money effectively," said Alastair Burnett, operations manager for the tsunami at the British Red Cross. "However, recovery projects should not be rushed.

"From the beginning, we said that reconstruction and rehabilitation would take years. Poorly designed and rapidly implemented programmes can have a long-term negative effect on the social and economic welfare of affected communities."

The Red Cross received £3.5m from the Department for International Development, which, it said, was all spent during the initial phase of the relief operation.

A spokeswoman for Save the Children said the charity received a grant of £400,000 from DfID. "This was spent fully in 2005," she said.

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