01/12/2005, 00.00
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Tsunami aid must be quick and on target

PIME Centre director says that reconstruction must be people-oriented and long-term. Sponsoring tsunami orphans is still premature. He insists how aid money is spent must be closely scrutinised.

Milan (AsiaNews) – Help for tsunami-stricken communities can only be effective if it truly reaches them. This can be done by dealing first with the emergency situation, stabilising it and then doing whatever is necessary to get things as close to normal as possible. But for this to happen, it is essential to have people who know local realities, who are fluent in local languages and understand local cultures.

Fr Davide Sciocco, director of the Missionary Centre of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) in Milan, told AsiaNews that for the time being there is "no need for more volunteers" in the tsunami-hit areas because there are enough trained people in place to deal with the situation. To start child sponsoring now is also premature as long as it remains unclear how and where orphans will live.

Father Davide is in permanent contact with the missionaries, nuns and volunteers who are working with the affected communities (especially in India, Thailand and Myanmar). It is vital, he stresses, that we trust those who "have a profound local knowledge, who understand local cultures and speak local languages, and who must stay put well into the post-emergency phase". When the media spotlight is turned off, they "are the ones who will implement the long-term reconstruction plans".

"For now," the PIME Centre said, "emergency aid takes priority because things are still critical in some areas". In fact, clergymen and nuns are providing immediate aid to people who lost everything whether it is food, medicines and shelter. Once the situation has stabilised, reconstruction will begin.

We shall "try to get things back to normal by building new housing and schools and providing fishermen and farmers with what they need to get back to work: boats for the former and seeds and farm equipment for the latter.

All this, Father Davide insists, must be done "by targeting what people need" because aid alone is insufficient. Plans must be long-term".

When it comes to child sponsoring, he has his doubts. "Some groups are already talking about [it]" but it is not the right "timing since we do not yet know where the orphans will live: in the refugee centres, orphanages, with relatives".

Sponsoring a child is "a three-year commitment to a real person in a real place" and to talk about it now "means taking risks in something whose duration is still unclear". It is something laudable but premature.

Finally, for Father Davide it matters little whether funds are raised through TV telethons, press campaigns or national associations, or go to this or that humanitarian organisation. What counts is that the money reach those who need it and that it be done under proper scrutiny". (DS)

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