Tsunami relief scams hit the Web
FBI says to look out for spam messages offering to locate loved ones, collect money for relief aid.
January 7, 2005: 3:36 PM EST
NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - It was only a matter of time before fraudsters saw fit to capitalize on the tsunami disaster that killed more than 150,000 people, and the FBI said Friday that time has come.
The bureau has received reports of Web sites that purportedly assist with collection and relief efforts to aid survivors of the natural disaster, but these sites really steal money from unsuspecting donors, spread computer viruses or steal personal information, an FBI statement said.
Complaints submitted to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), which works in conjunction with the FBI, have identified several schemes including e-mails that offer, for a fee, to locate loved ones who may have been lost in the disaster.
Unsolicited e-mails requesting that money be deposited in overseas banks to support the tsunami relief effort have also been reported to the FBI, as well as SPAM messages that ask for personal or financial information in an effort to retrieve large amounts of inheritance funds tied up in relation to the tsunami.
A fraudulent relief donation Web site that, if accessed, can infect the user's computer with a virus was also found, the FBI said.
Consistent with previous guidance on Internet scams, the FBI recommends:
-- Do not respond to any unsolicited, spam e-mails.
-- Be skeptical of individuals claiming to be surviving victims or foreign government officials asking for help in placing large sums of money in overseas bank accounts.
-- To ensure that contributions to U.S. based non-profit organizations are used for intended purposes, go directly to recognized charities and aid organization Web sites, as opposed to following a link to another site.
-- Be leery of e-mails that claim to show pictures of the disaster areas in attached files, as the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from know senders.
-- Anyone who has received an e-mail like the above mentioned messages or anyone who may have been a victim of a similar incident of fraud should notify the IC3 via the Web site, www.ic3.gov.
Generosity to tsunami-hit countries has fine print
TOKYO : The billions of dollars promised by world leaders after Asia's devastating tsunamis may seem like unparalleled generosity but recipient countries should beware there is also fine print.
As governments race to top one another by offering the biggest package, much of the "aid" will arrive in the form of loans that will need to be paid back, contracts for donor countries' companies or, many fear, will not come at all.
"I see no good reason to give loans. They're poor, we're rich, they need the money and I don't see why we need to ask for it back over the next 10 or 20 years," said David Roodman, a research fellow at the Center for Global Development in Washington.
"It serves to inflate the amount that's being given," he said.
Ahead of Tuesday's tsunami aid conference in Geneva, Australia has climbed to number one on the donors list by announcing the biggest pledge in its history: one billion dollars, equivalent to 762 million US.
But Australia would slip to second or third place if taken into account that half of its pledge is in interest-free loans to Indonesia.
Conspicuously, Australia is the only major country to go on record opposing any moratorium on debt repayments by tsunami-hit countries, let alone debt forgiveness.
"Indonesia already owes Australia a billion dollars in debt. Is increasing that amount by half going to benefit the Indonesian people?" said Tim O'Connor of the Australian watchdog Aid Watch.
Prime Minister John Howard is channeling the full package bilaterally to Indonesia, a neighbor with which Australia has long had tense relations and whose isolated Aceh province was devastated by the giant waves on December 26.
"The interest (of the package) is in our government rather than the Acehnese people. The interest is to shore up our relationship with Indonesia and bring our governments closer together," he said.
Germany has also promised a massive package, totalling 500 million euros (668 million dollars). But in announcing the hefty sum last week, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder gave few details on the shape of the aid from the Eurozone's biggest but worst-performing economy.
Schroeder suggested it could include debt reduction and measures taken with other members of the European Union and Group of Seven major economies.
One of the biggest surprises in the tsunami aid sweepstakes has been Japan, which has promised 500 million dollars.
In recent years, Japan has been the only major donor to disburse a majority of its aid through loans, taking advantage of super-low domestic interest rates which let Tokyo offer huge sums with a minimum burden to itself.
In a sign of its goal to be Asia's key player, Japan has taken pains to stress that its contribution will be in direct grants, which Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi began doling out Thursday at an emergency summit in Jakarta.
The United States has pledged 350 million dollars to tsunami relief, but like Germany will still need to figure out how to find the money in its budget and in what form it will take.
According to the US Agency for International Development, just under 88 million dollars of the pledged money had been committed as of Monday.
The figure does not include spending by the US military, which has launched major operations to reach isolated tsunami survivors, meaning that for post-crisis bragging rights Washington could claim its financial contribution to be higher.
Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Commander Greg Hicks said last week the military was spending five to six million dollars a day on the tsunami crisis. But his figure included 5.6 million dollars -- nearly all of it -- to pay for the personnel and equipment already part of the US military.
President George W. Bush pledged Monday that the United States was committed to its aid. However, US aid is some of the most politically tied, with laws requiring that the taxpayer money buy only US products.
Theoretically, aid workers bringing clean water to Aceh through US government money could be forced to import a more expensive purifier from the United States even if other options were available.
According to 2003 statistics by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, none of the aid from Britain and Ireland and less than five percent from Belgium, Japan, Norway and Switzerland had such political strings attached.
In 1996, the last year the United States reported its figure, 72 percent of its aid came with such political obligations. The only country with a higher figure was Italy at 92 percent.
Roodman said his think tank had calculated that the four countries worst hit by the tsunamis -- Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand -- paid 1.8 billion dollars in tariffs to the United States a year -- or five times what Washington has pledged in tsunami relief.
"The point is, it's good to remember that aid isn't the only way to help," he said.
German Army Tends To Tsunami Victims
While Indonesia's government on Wednesday limited foreign access to its tsunami-devastated Aceh province, the German army has set up camp there and plans to offer help with a mobile field hospital.
The first German Bundeswehr soldiers have arrived in Banda Aceh and started working. They are part of the special unit KSES, which quickly deploys medical service specialists to crisis regions.
In just a few days, a high-tech mobile field hospital will be operative in Banda Aceh. The 40 soldiers pull up the tarpaulins between the mud left by the tidal wave. When the unit has completed that, though, the real work begins.
"We want to mainly step in on short notice," said senior field doctor Thomas Harbaum. "This includes surgery, hygienic aid or helping with mobile troops to cover as many areas as possible."
Indonesia limits access to foreigners
Indonesia meanwhile asserted its military control over Aceh on Wednesday, requiring foreigners to register and seek official escorts to avoid what it said was a danger of rebel attacks.
The move to lock down the jealously guarded region came as Indonesia's Vice President Yusuf Kalla said foreign troops should leave Aceh as soon as they finish their relief missions, staying no longer than three months.
"In fact, the sooner the better," Kalla was quoted as saying.
Before the tsunami hit, Indonesia had sealed off Aceh to outsiders while it conducted a major military offensive to crush separatists engaged in a long-running independence struggle.
After the devastation on Dec. 26, the region was thrown open, with thousands of foreign volunteers and troops rushing to bring humanitarian assistance.
Now authorities say foreign aid missions and journalists must register and be accompanied by the military if they travel outside main towns, while Indonesian officers will be placed on foreign ships and planes.
UN officials understanding
The UN coordinator for Aceh, Joel Boutroue, said he did not believe there was a threat from the rebels, adding that although his organization had no objection to the measures, it was clear security was not the only goal.
"They want to have the situation under control for political reasons as well as security reasons," he said. "That's understandable."
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's special humanitarian envoy, Margareta Wahlstrom, played down the impact of the restrictions.
"I don't see these as restrictions," Wahlstrom said, adding she did not think the regulations would impede the relief effort. "They are not saying you cannot go. They are saying, let us know when you go."
The challenge of coordination
Back in Banda Aceh, German Lieutenant Colonel Walter Huber Schmidt said he is relieved to finally be on site and added that governments limiting access to foreigners was a well-known problem in similar crises.
"In the case of such catastrophes, it's always a problem that the respective government has to approve the deployment," Schmidt said, adding that the men and women of KSES needed another one or two days before being ready to start treating patients.
The second largest problem is the coordination of the many various aid organizations, he added.
"Before the tidal wave, two to five airplanes landed at the small airport in Banda Aceh every day," Schmidt said. "Now, it's 140 planes. Of course, this has to be coordinated and managed. This can give the impression that everything isn't running that well."
The rainy season has started in the Aceh province. Three or four times a day, it buckets down. While the soldiers get their equipment out of the rain, dredging machines at the Banda Aceh hospital dig the mud aside. Not a lot survived the flood, only destroyed equipment and beds. The personnel is gone -- dead or missing.
Only one thing is certain: The need for help is still huge.
"Even 14 days after the tsunami, we are still seeing a lot of surgical complications, such as infected wounds," Harbaum said. "Meanwhile, we've already got over 20 cases of tetanus in the city. That is a disease that is not easy to treat here."
In addition, the doctor said he fears that malaria or dengue fever could develop. Already now, the number of diarrhea and respiratory problems in the homeless camps is growing.
Trying to prevent worse
Colonel Fritz Wiggers, a doctor in the army reserve, is therefore trying to help already wherever he can. He's sitting in one of the many shelters, surrounded by numerous women, handing their children to him.
Wiggers has tried to bring some order into the chaos, but he doesn't have a lot of options. He can give advice, though, and try to prevent worse.
"Measles, cholera, tetanus, we'll see what surfaces," he said as he vaccinated the children.
Author Meike Scholz in Banda Aceh / AFP (sac)
Paris Club Freezes South Asian Debt
The Paris Club of creditor nations announced Wednesday an immediate, unconditional debt repayment freeze for Indonesia, The Seychelles and Sri Lanka, which were hit by last month's catastrophic tidal wave.
"It is an offer by the Paris Club that has not yet been formally accepted by the countries concerned: Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and The Seychelles," club president Jean-Pierre Joyuet (photo) told a press conference in Paris.
"This offer is not tied to any conditions, neither an accord with the IMF (International Monetary Fund), nor to comparable treatment by private creditors as the Paris Club usually does," he added.
The principle of a debt repayment freeze had been agreed upon last week by the Group of Seven industrialized nations and several of the 19-member Paris Club.
Earlier in the day, French Finance Minister Herve Gaymard had said that other countries in southeast Asia and east Africa that suffered from the Dec. 26 Indian Ocean tidal wave have "a lower level of indebtedness than the others and do not want their credit rating to be downgraded on international financial markets."
Gaymard (photo) cited Malaysia and Thailand as examples.
India, Thailand don't seek freeze
India and Thailand have indicated they would not seek repayment suspensions since accompanying conditions could make it harder or more expensive in the future to obtain credit on international financial markets.
That has already happened in the past for Indonesia, and two major credit rating agencies have warned Jakarta that its sovereign rating could be affected if an evenutual debt restructuring were extended to private creditors such as banks. But analysts say such a development is unlikely.
Indonesia nonetheless has a lot riding on obtaining debt relief. Its foreign debt comes to around $132 billion (100.7 billion), and the country is looking at $3 billion in payments this year to service the obligation.
Only $70 billion of the total figure is owed to public creditors or has been guaranteed by public bodies and therefore is eligible for the kind of debt relief that is being discussed.
Foreign Minister Hasan Wirayuda, in Paris for the meeting, earlier told a joint news conference in London that Indonesia sought "any schemes that would allow us operating space."
Sri Lanka's foreign debt is roughly $7.7 billion.
Jean-Francois Cope, France's budget minister, has described the actions taken by the Paris Club as a first step, which after a needs assessment by international financial bodies could lead to "complementary measures."
Germany supports further relief
Germany and several other rich countries have already voiced support for deeper debt relief for countries devastated by the tidal wave, which killed at least 157,000 people.
But Gaymard has argued against lumping together discussions on easing all forms of debt. For non-governmental organizations, re-scheduling and suspensions are far from sufficient, however.
A rally was scheduled Wednesday outside the French finance ministry, where the Paris Club is meeting, to demand that the debt of tsunami-hit countries be cancelled and that the United Nations convene an international conference on the question.
G-8 for international tax
Beyond the disaster in southeast Asia, France -- in upcoming meetings with its leading industrialized partners in the Group of Eight -- wants to revive a proposal for an international tax to finance development aid, Gaymard said.
Britain, current head of the Group of Eight, has recently called for a "new Marshall Plan" for the developing world in order to cancel an estimated $80 billion in debt owed by poor countries.
The Group of Eight comprises Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States.
Author DW staff / AFP (win)
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Women who survived the 2004 Asian tsunami face heightened risks of violence, impoverishment and lack of privacy at relief camps in several nations, a report released on Saturday said.
In many places, women were more vulnerable to abuse by men after the tsunami uprooted their traditional way of life, the report by 174 organizations, including ActionAid International, said..
"They would often beat their wives after getting drunk and would force them to have sex in the camps, sometimes in front of children," said Sriyani Perera, ActionAid International's women rights coordinator for Asia.
The report covered five countries -- Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Thailand, India and Somalia -- and more than 7,000 women were interviewed.
In the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu where more than 7,000 people died when the monstrous waves struck on December 26 over two years ago, some women who lost their houses or livelihood had to sell their kidneys to make ends meet,
The report said sex tourism was on the rise in coastal areas of tsunami-affected regions in India as hotels were being built near the shoreline.
Poor women, especially from devastated fishing communities, were particularly vulnerable to exploitation.
"The government doesn't allow fishermen to live within 500 meters (1,650 feet) of the seashore," Magline, 38, who is from a fishing community in the southern Indian state of Kerala, told Reuters.
"The coast has been leased to sand miners and hotels leading to influx of outsiders," she said. "This has affected our local culture and given rise to sex tourism."