Friday, January 07, 2005

Friday tsunami update 

For regular news and views about the tsunami's aftermath and the relief effort make sure to visit the Tsunami Help blog. And an Aust-Asian blog Geoffrey MG's Beyond Wallacia is also keeping track on developments in the region. Update: Indian-based journalist Amit Varma has been for the past week travelling around the tsunami-affected areas of Tamil Nadu state - and he's blogging about it at India Uncut.

Who's giving what: As at the Jakarta aid summit, the grand total of government pledges stands at
$3.7 billion, with another $630 million flowing into the region from private sources. Some of the highlights (and there are far too many cases to list individually):

Australia becomes the largest single donor with A$1 billion aid package composed of A$500 million in direct assistance and A$500 million in concessional loans.

The European Union: "The European Commission pledged an additional 350 million euros ($462 million) over three years... The European Union also proposed a 1 billion euro concessional loan through the European Investment Bank to help finance reconstruction efforts."

And this, from a seemingly
unlikeliest place:

"Afghans donated blood on Wednesday for the victims of last week’s devastating tsunami, and the government asked the US military to help it send war-hardened doctors to the disaster zone. About a dozen medics and a planeload of medicine and equipment would leave for India and Sri Lanka as soon as possible, the Defence Ministry said. 'We have our own problems, but we are part of the family of nations,' said ministry spokesman Gen Zaher Mohammed Azimi. 'The people of Afghanistan are saddened by this disaster'."
Just goes to show that you're never too poor or troubled not to show some charity and human spirit.

Steven Spielberg
and his family have donated $1.5 million.

Soccer's international governing body
FIFA has set up a $3 million aid fund.

In Hong Kong: "More than
760 prisoners in the high-security Stanley Prison, where some of the city's most hardened criminals are locked up, have donated HK$141,788 (US$18,178) after learning of the Dec. 26 catastrophe."

And in Denmark,
"homeless alcoholics" are collecting for the victims. "Living in Blue Cross shelters across Denmark, a Nordic welfare state, [they] have collected almost 19,000 crowns ($4424) in a drive launched in protest against the government's initially 'stingy' donation of 10 million crowns."

Barcepundit is disappointed with the official Spanish response.

Meanwhile, Chuck Simmins keeps
a tally of donations by "stingy Americans" (link in PDF).

And for all the (mostly) left-wing critics castigating governments and businesses for
the inadequate response:

"The United Nations and international donors on Thursday faced an unusual problem as they sought to rally help for victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami: not a shortage of money, but a surfeit - or at least far more promised cash than they can use in the coming months.

"An outpouring of public donations and government pledges from around the world has created an embarrassment of riches. The $5bn (€3.8bn, £2.65bn) promised amounts to about $1,000 for each of the estimated 5m people affected, much more than the typical annual income of a Sri Lankan fisherman or an Indian villager, let alone an African peasant. [emphasis added]

"UN officials do not want to stop the money flowing, but they admit that it poses some unexpected challenges, not least because the pledges are already five times greater than the $977m appeal launched on Thursday by Kofi Annan, UN secretary general, for emergency tsunami relief efforts over the next six months."
On the ground: "U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has flown over the worst scenes of devastation from Asia's tsunami and said it was more horrifying than wars he had witnessed during decades as a soldier." Others, however, still find the United States to be more horrifying that the tsunami.

Meanwhile, there is one place in the region where the extent of the catastrophe is unknown to the outside world:
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma:

"Superstition, distrust and a secretive military regime are making it difficult to assess the death toll and damage from the Dec. 26 tsunami in Myanmar, a country ruled by dictators since 1962. 'There's an age-old superstition that if there's a big natural disaster, there's going to be a new king or a regime change,' says [human rights activist] Stephen Dun of Seattle. 'That's one of the reasons they're keeping a big blanket on this whole situation'."
Change of government in Myanmar? Let's hope so. It clearly would be a case of something good coming out of a tragedy.

The aid diplomacy: In Indonesia, the American aid is being
received with gratitude:

"American tsunami relief aid is being welcomed in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country and a nation that has been critical of the U.S.-led war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan.

"As Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Sumatra island Wednesday, survivors, aid workers and others expressed gratitude for American aid. Some said it fostered a feeling of brotherhood, and, that like any helping hand, could bring the two nations closer. Others felt it could help America's tattered image in the Muslim world.

" 'America is the police of the world. But at the same time, they are helping us. And we are grateful,' said Mohamed Bachid Madjid, peering from a bridge into the rubble-cluttered Aceh River. 'It's not true that Muslims hate America'."
But it doesn't stop those who aren't actually affected from being the armchair critics:

"Even when America is doing something for Muslims, it comes in for criticism in the Middle East, where resentment and suspicion color thinking about the United States. On the streets of Tehran, the Iranian capital, technician Dariush Darabian accused Americans of 'talking more than they actually do.' Jordanian columnist Aida al-Najjar wrote in the independent daily Ad-Dustour that the United States was exploiting "the suffering of people" to try to improve its image. In the pages of pro-government Egyptian daily Al-Ahram, columnist Salah Montasser scoffed that America's initial allocation of $15 million 'is less than what America spends every minute in its war in Iraq'."
Another story from Indonesia:

"The U.S. servicemen have been logging 24-hour shifts in sweltering humidity, but their voices bubble with enthusiasm as they describe the welcome they've received in the most conservative Islamic province of this Muslim country. 'We get lots of smiles, lots of thumbs-up,' says Chief Petty Officer Matthew Schwantz, 29, of Beaufort, S.C. He's part of a squadron that has been flying off the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln to bring aid to victims of the tsunami that struck Dec. 26. 'The people are very appreciative'."
Other members of the new Coalition of the Willing is also forging closer ties with the region:

"You were the first to phone. You were the first to have aircraft on the ground... That is a gesture I will never forget."
That's Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono speaking to Australian prime minister John Howard.

Japan, too, is quite active: $500 million pledged in grants,
freezing the debts of tsunami-affected countries (worth some $65 billion), and dispatching its navy (still quaintly known as "the maritime self-defence force") to assist with the humanitarian relief. As "Japan Today" writes:

"By making what many view as a quick and generous gesture, Japanese government officials admit Tokyo hoped not only to assist fellow Asian countries affected by the Dec 26 disaster but also to boost its campaign to seek a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council."
Hey, how about a seat for Australia, too?

No wonder the United Nations was getting jealous. Kofi Annan must be pretty happy that
the coalition is getting disbanded and subsumed by the United Nations "effort". Time for business as usual?

"The UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, insisted yesterday that 'everyone accepted' the UN's leadership in the global drive to bring relief to Asia, as he sought to answer mounting questions over who was heading the aid effort. 'There was clear leadership at the beginning and everyone accepted the UN's leadership,' Mr Annan said in an interview with CNN."
The report also contains an interesting perspective on why the Americans themselves seem to be keen to hand the ball over to the UN:

"Other diplomats said there was concern that if the huge relief effort breaks down, the US would prefer not to be in the lead role."
Conspiracy theories live on: ...among the Islamic web sites. The latest one: "the annihilation of the Diego Garcia base": "The whole world is wondering about the silence of the American government on the fate of this base, situated at the core of the catastrophe and from where B-52 bombers took off to bomb our Muslim brothers in Afghanistan and Iraq," writes one poster on a message board. "It seems that the base was wiped off the map. But given their difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Americans do not want to announce it so as not to sap the morale of their soldiers," writes another. And this sinister view of America's offer to help set up an Indian Ocean early warning system for earthquakes and tsunamis:

"Certainly we cannot blame the United States for the quake which caused the tsunamis, but we have the right to be amazed by the eagerness of America to install all means of spying and early warning whenever it has the slightest suspicion about the presence of what it calls terrorists,"
says Kuwaiti Islamist Hamed Abdullah al-Ali. In other "grass knoll"-ing:

"One conspiracy theorist believes there's more to this than meets the eye. Why would the U.S. send a warship? Why would a senior commander who was previously posted in Iraq be on his way to South East Asia? The lack of previous seismic activity being recorded is also seen as proof of a major cover-up going on.

"The Indian and U.S. military are seen by many as the main cause of the disaster by testing eco-weapons which use electromagnetic waves thus triggering off earthquakes. Other figures of blame range from the Australian to the Thai governments for deliberately failing to respond to warning of the impending earthquake which caused the tsunamis."


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