updated 1/5/2005 7:53:59 PM ET 2005-01-06T00:53:59

The promises of aid to tsunami survivors keep pouring in — billions in pledges. So NBC News decided to take a look back at another disaster, the earthquake in Bam, Iran, a year ago, to see if promised aid money actually makes it to the suffering. The results are less than encouraging.

The day after Christmas a year ago, Bam was flattened by a powerful earthquake. Some 26,000 were left dead. The world rushed to help and promised huge amounts of aid.

But a year later, much has not changed. Grief is fresh. Rubble still lines many streets. Some 150,000 survivors still live in tents or small containers. For many, there is limited water to wash clothes and dishes.

"We have serious sanitation problems," says one woman. "The streets are not clean; the kids go out in to the streets and everything is covered in dust."

One man in a tent says he's gotten no help. "I don't have a penny to my name," he says.

The United Nations says that in the Bam disaster, as in most others, there was a sizeable gap between amounts pledged in the emotion of the moment and the money that actually came .

Why the gap?

"Governments try to announce the biggest possible number," says former U.N. relief official Rick Barton. "But we don't have a public system of naming and shaming in terms of the follow-up."

No one, not even the United Nations, keeps track of all public and private pledges.

The U.N. estimates $115 million worth of aid actually went to Bam — considerably less than the hundreds of millions pledged, but enough to begin rebuilding.

An urgent U.N. appeal for money for essential needs last year went partly unanswered. 

"We asked for $33 million and received a little less than $18 million," says U.N. official Kevin Kennedy. "[We] received just a little over 50 percent [of] what we were looking for to meet the immediate needs."

Officials also note that some pledges that were fulfilled were for items no longer needed. They ended up in a warehouses, or may have been siphoned off by the Iranian government.

And now, with the world's attention shifted to another emergency, there isn't likely to be any more help for Bam.

Lisa Myers is NBC's senior investigative correspondent.


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