WB, UN to follow 'colour blind' policy
Human tragedy and not a Tamil, Sinhalese or Aceh (Indonesia) tragedy: Money no issue
By Faizal Samath
The World Bank yesterday strongly urged the Sri Lankan government to ensure equal treatment to all communities including those living in LTTE-controlled areas in disbursing relief and other benefits.

Bank President James D. Wolfensohn told a media conference, soon after joining UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in visiting devastated parts of Sri Lanka, that the World Bank and the UN will follow a "colour blind" approach in helping Sri Lanka and other tsunami-affected countries.

Asked about relief and rehabilitation in LTTE-controlled areas, Wolfensohn said everyone should put their rivalries behind and here, Sri Lankan leaders have promised to do so.

"Is that possible given the history of these conflicts? That's a human question. We are going to proceed on the assumption that this is a human tragedy and not a Tamil or Sinhalese or Aceh (Indonesia) tragedy. To that extent we can -- and I know the UN Secretary General feels the same way -- and wish to have a colour blind approach to relief."

While noting that many people doubt this (government channelling aid through an LTTE structure) would happen, he said, "Our task is try and ensure that it does happen. We are going to give it a shot. In the case of Indonesia and Sri Lanka where you have had conflicts one would hope in occasions like this that here is an opportunity for not only dealing with the human issue but dealing with peace too."

Wolfensohn, who met civil society leaders including religious leaders and representatives of NGOs in addition to meeting President Chandrika Kumaratunga, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse and opposition parties, said it was crucial that local communities are involved in the decision-making process, not governments alone.

"You shouldn't make a decision ignoring the needs of the local people. That's a principle we would be following. I hope governments will." The bank will cut through barriers and other constraints in normal programme lending to ensure funds reach the people as fast as possible. "This is an emergency that has to be dealt with differently than traditional programmes," he said. The bank has made an emergency credit of $75 million of which $30 million is grant aid; $100 million from existing projects is being channelled for emergency work and another $10 million for ongoing health, water and sanitation programmes is being diverted for other emergency work.

But Wolfensohn said money was not an issue. "We could ourselves go up to a billion dollars or a billion and a half without any difficulty in terms of new and converted funds if the need arose."

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