Monday, January 10, 2005

Monday tsunami update 

The aftershocks - on the ground and around the world: The death toll officially stands at 156,000. Even in the largely Buddhist and Hindu Sri Lanka, more than half of victims are actually Muslim.

The earth is
still rattling.

The World Health Organisation says:
no more field hospitals, please; just send some water.

On the
local stockmarkets: "The tsunami in Asia dragged down tourism stocks, but the prospect of rebuilding is lifting cement and engineering firms and surprise beneficiaries such as water and noodle makers." But not everyone's happy: "International aid agencies are not so keen on noodles. 'We wouldn’t normally give them. It’s not proven nutritional intervention,' said a UN spokeswoman in Bangkok. Unicef, for example, gives long-life high-protein biscuits made in Norway."

Indian baby which survived the waves has been named
"Tsunami". Not the first unusual name in the family, as the boy's father is called Stalin.

And New Zealand band
Stereogram has decided against releasing "Tsunami" as the next single from their debut album, even though the song has been written before the disaster and is a commentary on a broken relationship. But Brunai, on the other hand, has the first charity music single inspired by the disaster.

To UN or not to UN: Seems like Australia's got
the right idea:

"Australia's $1 billion aid package to Indonesia would not be wasted through aid agency incompetence, [Prime Minister] John Howard last night vowed...

"Mr Howard said he was determined there would be no UN involvement in Australia's massive package to Indonesia."

Too much attention: "Aid groups complained yesterday that dignitaries visiting to look at the devastation have choked the tiny main airport in Banda Aceh and hampered distribution of relief supplies for victims of the Dec. 26 tsunami."

Meanwhile, the Diplomad has this to say about the UN effort:

"Yesterday the UN rep who flew up to Aceh solely for the event, held a press conference at which he criticized the US airlift of supplies. The little S.O.B sniffed that it was 'uncoordinated' and that some villages were fed twice while others were missed and that no 'assessment teams' were being sent... I learn from colleagues who were there, no journalist asked the little twit just how many people the UN had fed, and if, indeed, 'assessment teams' are what is needed why haven't the gadzillion UN assessment teams hanging out in the capital moved into these remote villages. I'm sorry but I detest these Vultures more and more."
Read on for more of the UN's vital contribution to the humanitarian effort. And in the opinion pieces' stakes, as always, you can't beat Mark Steyn and David Frum.

Meanwhile, "Australia aid workers and military personnel working in the war-torn province of Aceh have been given a list of
no-go areas by Indonesian authorities as security tensions continue to mount in the region." But if the aid doesn't reach some areas that will make the whole humanitarian effort illegitimate... Sorry, for a second there I thought I was talking about the Iraqi elections.

Never mind the actual aid -
the UN Secretary General can't reach certain areas, either.

The aid efforts: Finance ministers of G7 nations have agreed to
freeze the debt repayments of tsunami-affected countries.

Kuwait is multiplying its initial aid tenfold by donating $100 million.

The Saudis, too, have picked up their act.

China has promised $83 million in assistance. "China's transformation from self-imposed isolation to global player is primarily the result of its booming economy. And Beijing hopes its largesse toward its stricken neighbors will broaden its regional influence and solidify its image as a world leader, some experts say."

Not everyone's happy, though: "The Paris and Madrid 2012 Olympic bid teams have been accused of 'gross opportunism' for making large donations to the tsunami disaster relief operation amid a fanfare of publicity. Both cities reacted to the tragedy by sending out press releases highlighting their financial contributions." Crude? Maybe. But as I wrote before, the victims probably don't care.

This private initiative is trying to fill in gaps in the aid effort -
"a bridge of boats for remote Aceh":

"Boats are the only way to bring supplies in to sections of the SW Aceh coast where there are no roads and to the hundreds of islands to the West and South of what can only be described as ground zero. The US/AUS/UK/RI military will be stretched to deal with the carnage on the North West Coast and that area will continue to attract most of the attention and the bulk of the aid.

"Our mission is to fill that gap starting with what we have at hand. We can make a real difference but we must move fast."
Here's the media coverage of the initiative.

Chuck Simmins maintains his watch over private American donations, now nearing $0.5 billion. As he emails, "I'm also looking for additions to the list, from people like George Soros, organisations like MoveOn, etc. I've grown increasingly curious at the lack of information about certain names and industries and locales on my list.
It seems Hollywouldn't. If George Soros can spend $20 million to defeat Bush, can't he manage a paltry million for tsunami relief?" Not as long as the American left thinks that George Bush is hundred times more dangerous than any natural disaster.

Where do we go from here: At Beyond Wallacia, Geoffrey MG observes the progress of the new leftie
"Americans knew but didn't warn" tsunami myth - and wonders why the same questions are not being asked of the United Nations.

The region-wide early warning system is on the cards now, but the matter of saving lives in the future is not as simple as setting up detection stations full of high-tech equipment. As
Phil McFadden, chief scientist at Geoscience Australia says:

"There's no point in spending all the money on a fancy monitoring and a fancy analysis system unless we can make sure the infrastructure for the broadcast system is there... That's going to require a lot of work. If it's a tsunami, you've got to get it down to the last Joe on the beach. This is the stuff that is really very hard."
In the meantime, "the UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission’s (IOC) tsunami warning system in the Pacific, ITSU, has set up a ‘public tsunami warning listserve’ so that anyone, who wish to, can receive by e-mail tsunami warning centre information messages. This free e-mail warning service went into operation on December 31, 2004, and broadcast messages posted by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center for the January 1, earthquake measuring 6.5 on the Richter scale, that occurred in the region." Although as McFadden notes, this would hardly help Sri Lankan fishermen.

"Skeptical environmentalist"
Bjorn Lomborg is also, well, skeptical of the whole idea, although for different reasons:

"Mr Lomborg, the 40-year-old enfant terrible of the environmental movement, said the desire to build a system was understandable - and reasonably cheap at an estimated $US20 million... initially - but that its benefits were uncertain given the lack of necessary supporting infrastructure in many places.

"He said that 100 years or more could pass before the next tsunami struck. 'On the other hand, we would certainly save many lives by investing that money in clean drinking water, disease prevention and basic education,' Mr Lomborg said. In South-East Asia alone, three million people die every year from infectious and parasitic diseases - most curable with inexpensive drugs, Mr Lomborg said."
An interesting view. The tsunami disaster might have been unprecedented, but so is the outpouring of aid, both from the government and the private sources, so much so that it tended to totally overshadow other humanitarian needs around the world (a point made by Medicines sans Frontiers and, indirectly, Colin Powell). Hence this from Tony Blair:

"Victims of poverty and war in Africa deserve the same 'generosity and solidarity' from the British people as those who have suffered in the Asian tsunami, Prime Minister Tony Blair said today.

"Speaking at his monthly press conference, he said the energy shown in dealing with the current disaster must be transferred to helping Africa solve its problems, although he admitted they did not affect people so strongly.

"Mr Blair said that the tsunami had been a 'terrible' natural disaster and the British people had responded with 'remarkable' spirit.

"However, he added that terrible things were happening every day in areas such as Africa, many of them preventable. He said that the world should redouble efforts to help not just those affected by the tsunami but also the 'victims of man'."
There are, of course, major differences between providing immediate humanitarian assistance to victims of natural disasters, and on the other hand trying to solve more systemic problems of the developing world. Let's hope (but not hold our breath) that the tsunami crisis will prompt a global rethink on the issue of aid. As Lomborg elsewhere argues, tackling hunger and disease are amazingly more cost effective ways of "do-good-ing" than trying to solve some of the much "sexier" problems such as global warming. In the end though, free trade, and political and economic reform are the best aid we can give to the developing world.


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