Funding for tsunami victim ID “embarrassing’ – Interpol

PHUKET: Ronald K Noble, the Secretary General of the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), this morning lashed out at the lack of funding from the international community for work to continue in identifying victims of the December 26 tsunami.

“We, as a world community, should be embarrassed that the people in the DVI teams, who should be [regarded as] heroes, aren’t getting all the support they need,” Mr Noble said.

“These dedicated police officers and experts, who have come here to look at these remains and take DNA samples, are having to raise money [for their investigations].”

Mr Noble said that he had heard of DVI (Disaster Victim Identification) staff having to write up business plans to obtain equipment and funding, or having to contact friends and colleagues to source ink cartridges for printers.

The situation had become so bad that Mr Noble approved the establishment of a 5,000-euro (about 250,000 baht) petty cash fund to cover incidental expenses.

Since January, Interpol – which is based in Lyon, France – has been co-ordinating the efforts of DVI teams from around the world to reunite tsunami victims with their families.

At present, the work of each of the score-or-so DVI teams operating in Phuket at any one time is funded solely by its home country. But this system is “inefficient” said Mr Noble, as it can lead to duplication of some resources, but shortages in others.

“Individual countries can say they have been here from the very beginning and they have donated enough resources, but, really, that isn’t good enough for the family members. [They] want their relatives to be identified as soon as possible,” he said.

Mr Noble supported the Thai Tsunami Victims Identification center’s executive committee in its attempts to secure international funding for what is being done in Phuket.

He said this was particularly important because since the tsunami slipped off the front pages of the world’s newspapers and foreign victims were being identified, foreign governments are facing less pressure to continue contributing to the effort, even though it could be necessary for many years.

The need for an international disaster victims identification fund was one of three lessons Interpol had learned from the tsunami, said Mr Noble.

Another was the need for an international DVI team capable of working on large-scale catastrophes such as the tsunami.

The third lesson cited by Mr Noble was that it is crucial to have the full support of the government of the country in which the DVI operation is taking place, as had happened in Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Maldives following the tsunami.

Said Mr Noble, “We have never dealt with anything on this scale before. If Interpol deploys an incident response team to, for example, an aircraft crash, usually it will deploy three people for a handful of days.

“But we put people into Phuket on January 2 – 10 of them – and in Sri Lanka there have been between four and six people. And it’s now 144 or so days since the tsunami.”

Because each DVI team is being funded by its home country, no central agency involved in the DVI process has calculated how much the operation has cost so far – or how much it could cost.

Mr Noble, who was Chief Law Enforcement Officer of the US Treasury Department, said Interpol expects to spend 7 million euros (more than 350 million baht) before its involvement ends.

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