Donor nations must speed up delivery of aid pledges for the Asian tsunami relief effort and face public shame if they fail to live up to their promises, a top UN official told a key conference in Geneva on Tuesday.
Jan Egeland, the UN emergency relief coordinator, said that of $3.4 billion (€2.6 billion) of formal aid pledges, only $300 million had been committed so far to projects, programs and assistance on the ground.
"We need very quickly more signed contracts, more cash, more concrete commitments to help keep this massive effort going in the next six months," he told reporters just before the Geneva conference got underway.
He said he expected it to produce a "large part" of the UN appeal launched last week for $977 million for the next six months, and the rest would follow "soon."
UN General Secretary Kofi Annan said he hoped that the countries represented at the conference would collect a further billion dollars. And in addition to mourning the dead, the world should now think of helping the living.
"We must look forward," Annan said. Taking care of children in desperate situations is the first priority of the UN programs, he added.
But Egeland warned that if remaining pledges were not also turned into reality, victims of the Dec. 26 killer waves, which left more than 157,000 people dead, would feel short-changed.
"They will not forget and we should not forget," he said.
Nevertheless, he added, the deadly outbreak of disease and starvation that officials had initially feared in the aftermath of the disaster did not appear to have materialized.
'Humanity at its best'
The conference under UN auspices brought together representatives of more than 80 countries and organizations, as well as aid agencies and the stricken nations, to firm up promises and ensure better coordination of how, when and where aid is delivered.
So far more than $8 billion has been pledged in an unprecedented worldwide display of government and public sympathy -- "humanity at its very best," Egeland said.
At the same time, he insisted other crises, notably in Africa, must not be neglected.
"It would be the ultimate disappointment for us and tragedy for the victims in all those other areas, where we are struggling to keep programs going on existing levels of assistance, were they to suffer."
Aid officials fear that as memories of the tsunami disaster fade, the amount actually delivered will diminish.
The British charity Oxfam said it was "crunch time" for the international community to ensure promises are kept.
"We want guarantees that it's new money, that it's not money that is being diverted from another disaster or existing aid budget," such as for Sudan, a spokeswoman said.
Egeland said it was also a commitment he was seeking, noting that at times of disaster, "there's a disproportion between generous pledges and the actual money delivered."
The UN is to use a financial tracking system, consultable via the Internet, to keep tabs on pledges from the moment they are made to when they are finally realized on the ground.
"It will make the donors actually accountable for honoring their pledges," Egeland went on, with public scrutiny making it "very hard" for donors not to follow up.
Aid officials are keenly aware the donor community has often failed to live up to past promises.
Last year, governments found only 63 percent of the $3.4 million the UN had asked for. After the December 2003 quake that levelled the Iranian city of Bam, the UN asked for $333 million for immediate relief. A year later, only $17 million had come through.
The tracing system is being set up with US auditors PricewaterhouseCoopers, who will also monitor how aid is delivered to make sure there is no misuse of funds.
The offer by the US company, which UN officials say is free of charge, came after scathing criticism of the way the UN ran its controversial Iraqi oil-for-food program under the regime of former leader Saddam Hussein.
Egeland promised an immediate investigation into any claims of mishandling aid money.
Before the tsunami relief meeting, Egeland appealed for more cash toward an appeal launched in November for 14 other needy regions, ranging from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Chechnya and the Palestinian territories.
While it was relatively easy getting international aid for Iraq and Kosovo, it was a "nightmare" trying to meet Africa's needs, he said, although there were up to 30 million people in desperate need of assistance.