The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are meeting in Hong Kong to map out the long-term response to last December's deadly tsunami. Organizers say humanitarian agencies still face major challenges even as the tsunami's immediate impact begins to fade.
More than 10 weeks after the Indian Ocean tsunami struck, the Red Cross says it is time to shift from emergency relief to broader recovery and development projects. At least 100 representatives from more than 50 agencies are meeting in Hong Kong for three days to discuss the transition.
Members say they will review ways to coordinate efforts across the region and within the Red Cross, which includes national and international Red Cross and Red Crescent agencies.
The secretary general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Markku Niskala, says the disaster presents the group with unprecedented challenges. "The Red Cross Red Crescent movement is entering uncharted territory; we have never engaged in such a large and complex operation," he said. "Never have we worked with so many players in so many countries."
The December 26 earthquake and tsunami killed nearly 300,000 people and damaged coastal communities from Indonesia to Somalia.
During the emergency phase, the Red Cross focused on immediate needs like treating survivors and burying the dead. Now, Mr. Niskala says, priorities include rebuilding homes and schools, as well as planning ways to limit damage from future disasters.
Red Cross agencies say the move away from emergency operations also means they will work more closely with local and national governments. And they expect more international attention will be paid to their finances.
Francois Bugnion, with the International Committee of the Red Cross, says people around the world donated record sums to the Red Cross in response to the tsunami. Now he says, they want to make sure that money is being well spent.
"This enormous generosity … brings with it a heavy moral obligation, as well as serious risks to image and reputation," said Mr. Bugnion. "We must insure we have a track record of the highest standard, transparency and accountability."
The Red Cross says it will consider tough new internal reporting standards this week and may hire international audit firms to review their largest programs in Indonesia and Sri Lanka.