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Rebuilding Slows in Tsunami-Stricken Areas

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

It is two years to the day since a tsunami rumbled across the Indian Ocean and struck the coastal regions of 12 countries. Two years, and people displaced by the tsunami in Southeast Asia still live in tents and makeshift homes. The Red Cross pledged to build 50,000 houses within three years, but so far only 8,000 have been built.

Miloon Kothari is the UN special rapporteur for adequate housing. When I spoke with him he was in Geneva. He said that his agency has not received satisfactory explanations for the slow progress.

Mr. MILOON KOTHARI (United Nations): It's not clear what the reasons are. I cannot imagine that it would take this long to build permanent houses. I think that there is sort of a lethargy that sets in, a drift that sets in, not only amongst governments, but also aide agencies. And I think we need to ask more hard questions as to why is the process so slow.

SIEGEL: Well, governments and individuals donated or pledged to donate a tremendous amount of money in the late days of 2004 and the beginning of 2005. Where is that money right now?

Mr. KOTHARI: There are two problems. One is that the funds that were pledged by governments, many of those funds have not actually been dispersed. The other problem is that the funds that are available, at least half of them according to the recent investigation by the BBC, are still sitting in banks or with agencies and have not actually reached where it can then be used for reconstruction of housing and other uses.

SIEGEL: But just to give a measure of the disparity between official pledges and actual donations - The Chinese pledge, I believe, was $300 billion, and of that, the actual donation so far?

Mr. KOTHARI: They've only spent five million. So you know, I think the U.S. government, it's about 50 percent. The World Bank has only used about 25 percent. There are also - each government agency you mentioned, the Red Cross, has not spent quite a lot of the money that they have.

SIEGEL: I'd like you to describe the housing that has been built. Of the thousands of units - far short of the 50,000 unit goal - but of those that have been built, are they appropriate to the task?

Mr. KOTHARI: Well, no. I think there are two very clear problems that we see on the ground. One, let me begin with the temporary housing. I think that we have, you know, thousands of houses that are still in what we would call emergency, immediate post-disaster type of situation, where people are living in homes that are built with tar sheets, with tin sheets. People are still living in tents. Living in very adverse sanitation conditions with also lack of water, lack of access to electricity.

The second problem is with permanent housing, what we have seen is that a large proportion of the housing is inadequate. It has not been built in consultation with the people for whom it is intended, so you have housing that is built which has very small kitchens. There's little space for bathing, so for women there's no privacy. You have housing that is built, double-storied housing for people who are not used to living in those type of housing. You have housing but you have no solid waste management, sanitation facilities around the housing.

I would say most people who were affected by the tsunami are still living in what we in the United Nations call grossly inadequate conditions.

SIEGEL: Well, Mr. Kothari, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Mr. KOTHARI: Okay. Thanks a lot.

SIEGEL: It is Miloon Kothari, who is the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, speaking about the housing shortage that persists after the tsunami of December 26, 2004. He spoke to us from Geneva. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.