Bill Clinton says the response to the Asian tsunami could serve as a model for future disasters if donors make sure the stricken region recovers.
The former US president, who is now the United Nations envoy for tsunami relief, told a New York conference of senior American executives yesterday that the recovery stage was just beginning to diversify seafront economies and build houses.
More than 228,000 people were killed or went missing when the underwater earthquake on Boxing Day sent huge waves into a dozen Indian Ocean nations. Some US$6-8 billion ($8.2-11 billion) has been pledged or spent.
"If you do something that works well, then other people will copy it," Clinton said. "If you don’t focus on doing one project well, we won’t have a model we can then use to do the same thing in other areas."
Clinton said he was chosen by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan because "he thought I could guilt-peddle my former colleagues better than anyone else he could think of".
"Countries have a notorious reputation for committing massive amounts of money when people are dying on television," he said.
"Then when the TV cameras turn off, they don’t give the money."
Hank McKinnell, CEO of pharmaceutical company Pfizer, who helped organise the meeting, said it was important that the partnerships forged during the tsunami prepared business for the next calamity and that people in the United Nations and in industry knew whom to contact.
"I can only say that we in the private sector want to do the right thing and in times of crisis we want to do it quickly," said Mr McKinnell, who is chairman of the Business Roundtable of 160 leading corporations.
Jan Egeland, the UN emergency relief chief, tried to harness business participation in the tsunami to other crises in the world.
"For example, each and every day, 1000 people die in the Congo from largely preventable causes - a tsunami death toll every few months for years on end," Mr Egeland said.
But Mr McKinnell said the tsunami relief effort included concrete plans that made it easier for people to participate and know where the money was being spent.
"In the Congo, as a business person, it not clear what the problem is, much less the solution."
He said that without a roadmap to success, "I don’t think you’re going to get the private sector engaged the way you did with the tsunami".