An emergency conference called to raise $100 million for Cambodian relief over the next 90 days turned into an international gripe session today, with the principal donor countries raising basic questions about the accountability of the agencies running the humanitarian operation.
The United Nations, on behalf of the agencies, had appealed for a total of $262 million in contributions by the end of this year. Less than $20 million was pledged today by the 43 nations at the meeting.
The United States annonced an $8 million contribution. Ambassador William Van den Heuvel said that further aid would depend on Cambodian cooperation with the relief agencies and "the verifiable extent to which needy Khmer receive relief supplies."
By comparison, Washington pledged $69 million last fall at a meeting that raised $210 million for the period ending next Monday.
Nevertheless, relief officials noted that sizable additional donations from Japan, the European Economic Community, the United States and Canada were still expected and expressed confidence that there would be sufficient funds for the big push projected over the next three months.
They announced that one major bottleneck -- the availability of rice seed -- had been eased by Thailand's agrement to allow the export of 15,000 tons of seed by next week.
The officals, from UNICEF, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations' World Food Program could provide no guarantee that the 90,000 tons earmarked for Cambodia over the next three months could actually be unloaded in Cambodian ports.
The collapse of two ancient wooden piers in the port of Phnom Penh last week has cut handling capacity there to 4,000 from 18,000 tons a month, U.N. officials said.
A UNICEF spokesman said that Dutch engineers were flying into Phnom Penh this weekend to explore the possibility of erecting floating wharves. But he said that would take two to three weeks.
The conference chairman, Robert Jackson, conceded that the present capacity "is significantly less than the minimum required to move relief supplies to the places where they will be wanted."
This admission led the Western donor nations to question whether the U.N. aid goals were practical.
The basic question they raised was the extent to which the food that does reach Cambodia gets to the people who need it, and the capacity of the relief agencies to verify distribution and future needs in the provinces.
The donors were also irked by the relief agencies' contradictory statistics and the failure to provide a breakdown of how previous aid was spent.
Belgian Ambassador Andre Ernemann said that because of the overambitious undertaking of the relief agencies, and the lack of accountability, Belgium -- which had contributed $1.2 million to the first phase of the Cambodian relief effort -- would make no contribution this time. Instead, it is to contribute funds to nongovernmental organizations working with Cambodian refugees in Thailand.
Jeremy Kinsman of Canada noted reports that oil intended for U.N. trucks had been stockpiled, and that there had been massive diversions of food supplies. He also questioned whether it is possible to delivery and distribute 90,000 tons over the next three months if it was possible to deliver only 50,000 tons since the inception of the operation in November. He said his government had information that only 20,000 tons could be delivered before the end of May.
The Canadian also questioned the discrepancy in the monies being allocated to the relief operation inside Cambodia and the lesser amounts for aid distribution along the border with Thailand. The suggestion was that more of the relief effort was being diverted in Cambodia.