January 4, 2005
The medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) urged donors on Tuesday to stop sending it money for Asian tsunami victims, saying it had collected enough funds to manage its relief effort there. In an unusual step, the group said it has enough to finance emergency medical aid projects in Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
In a statement on its U.S. website, MSF urged donors to instead contribute to its general Emergency Relief Fund, "which is enabling our quick response to the current disaster in South Asia as well as humanitarian needs in war-torn Darfur, Sudan, and elsewhere in the over 70 countries where MSF is working around the world."
In Europe, the group's branches in France and Germany said they had already raised 40 million euros ($54.4 million) and 20 million euros, respectively.
The decision surprised other aid groups and drew criticism that it could undercut an unprecedented wave of private giving to provide relief to the region devastated by the Dec. 26 tsunami which has killed at least 140,000 people. "It's the first time we are led to take this kind of decision," MSF Director General Pierre Salignon said. "This might seem to run counter to the mood of general mobilization, but it's a question of honesty toward our donors. We don't want to continue to lobby the public for projects that are already financed," he said in a statement. A spokesman for MSF's German branch, Aerzte Ohne Grenzen, said it had adopted the same policy.
"What shocks me is that you are taking the risk of pulling the carpet under the feet of other aid organizations. Many groups still need more money," said Jean-Christope Rufin, head of the French aid group Action Contre la Faim (Action against Hunger). "It's a bit irresponsible. We're all in the same boat in humanitarian aid," Rufin told France 2 television.
'Just the beginning' for other aid groups
Some German agencies said they had no plans to follow suit and privately several said they were shocked by MSF's decision. "MSF mainly provides emergency aid, whereas UNICEF stays on. We build schools, carry out vaccination programs and so on. For us this is just the beginning and that's why we still need donations," said Astrid Prange of UNICEF Germany, which has received more than 10 million euros in pledges.
"Our experience is -- and our feeling is -- that people want to give to this or nothing. It's not that they want to give in general," said Oxfam Germany director Paul Bendix.
Some German aid agencies attributed MSF's move to its focus on providing short term aid, which is treated differently for tax purposes under German law on charitable donations than long-term development assistance. A spokesman for the German Protestant church charity Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe, which has also received 10 million euros in pledges, said most German charities had been careful to broadly frame their aid requests so that they were not legally tied to providing specific assistance in one country.
MSF in France said it was committed to use money donated for South Asia only there and not for other crises. "If a person calls us to make a donation, we will tell them that these programs are already financed and that they can make a donation for a different crisis," a MSF spokeswoman said.