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Red Cross Blames Bureaucratic Barriers for Blocking Aid

A new report finds legal red tape and bureaucratic barriers can seriously hamper emergency aid and increase the cost of disaster relief. The report, launched by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, calls on governments to improve their legal preparedness for disasters so people in need can receive help in a timely and efficient manner. Lisa Schlein was at the launch and has this report for VOA from Geneva.

Most people probably remember the generous outpouring of global aid when the Indian Ocean tsunami struck in 2004, killing one-quarter of a million people and destroying the homes and livelihoods of millions more.

But, few people are aware of the legal red tape and bureaucratic hurdles humanitarian organizations encountered. Author of the Red Cross report, David Fisher, says these barriers greatly retarded the ability of aid agencies to help the victims.

"Relief items were trapped for quite some time in customs, sometimes for periods of months-during which many of the items included have gone bad," he said. "Food has expired, medicines have expired, goods that were shipped were no longer needed. And, in some cases charges, for instance storage charges and duties associated with these goods mounted so high that the humanitarian organizations sending them, had to abandon them."

The International Red Cross Federation spent six years researching the law and legal issues involved in international disaster response. Governments, U.N. and international agencies were consulted.

A main finding of the report is that most governments are still leaving all the details of regulating international disaster relief to the last minute. It says this creates enormous problems, especially for the victims who often miss out on timely aid.

The Swiss humanitarian organization has drawn up a series of voluntary guidelines to help governments better prepare for a natural or man-made disaster. If followed, it says it believes governments and international humanitarian agencies will be able to ensure that aid flows more smoothly to those in need, thereby reducing the number of deaths and injuries.