Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Tsunami round-up, 12 January 

Too little, too much? The UN is keen to see the money: "Aid pledges worth billions of dollars must be delivered swiftly to help victims of the Asian tsunami, the UN is to tell delegates from donor nations. The UN is hosting a donor conference in Geneva to discuss a practical timetable for delivering aid to the region. The world body wants guarantees that relief pledges worth up to $6bn will reach millions of victims."

Andrew Gilligan disagrees with this rush to help: "The people who moan about the aid not being spent quickly enough are completely missing the point. The danger, in fact, for Sri Lanka, if not Indonesia, is that the aid will be spent too quickly." As Gilligan notes, the immediate humanitarian aid has already been provided; what the area needs is a long term assistance to rebuild destroyed livelihoods, be they in fishing, farming or tourism. Which is exactly what three German cities, Hamburg, Bremen and Luebeck, have committed themselves to assist with. Right sentiment, too, from the British Conservatives: "Ending Western tariffs would be the most fitting memorial to those killed in the Asian tsunami disaster, Tory leader Michael Howard has said." One would hope, however, that a developing country does not have to wait to be devastated by a tsunami or an earthquake to be able to benefit from free trade.

The Diplomad, meanwhile, thinks that some in the international community have not pulled their weight - and it's not just the UN:

"In Western countries, we see not only governments pledging sizable sums of money, but private individuals, as well. I can't count, for example, the number of letters, emails, and calls we have received from private Americans wanting to help in anyway they can to save lives. All across America, Australia, and Europe private citizens have raised enormous sums for tsunami relief. Local branches of American companies have raised large amounts of money and donated expensive machinery and other supplies to the effort. At the Embassy, we have seen American staff voluntarily cancel leave plans (often at considerable financial cost); cut short vacations; and volunteer for duties such as manning phones in our 24 hr. opcenter; helping load and unload trucks and C-130s; or spending days working and sleeping under exceptionally grim conditions in the areas most affected. And, of course, Australian and American military personnel, at great monetary cost and personal risk, have led the way in the massive relief effort underway.

"I see, however, no outpouring of support in most of the world's countries. The oil-rich Arabs? Where are they? But most frustrating and even angering is the lack of concern exhibited by average and elite members of the societies most directly affected. This was driven home in the course of an interminable meeting a few days ago discussing some silly resolution or another calling on the UN to appoint a 'Special Representative for Tsunami Relief.' A relatively senior Sri Lankan official leaned over and said to me, 'Why do we want to bother with this? We all know you Americans will do everything.' A nice compliment, I suppose, but on reflection a sad commentary not only about the rest of the world but presumably about Sri Lanka, itself. One would expect the affected countries to take the lead in relief efforts. None of the most seriously affected countries (Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Maldives) is a dirt poor country; all have well-established governments and national identities.

"In Jakarta, aside from flags at half-staff, we have seen no signs of mourning for the victims: while employees and dependents of the American embassy spent their holiday loading trucks and putting together medicine kits, the city's inhabitants went ahead with New Year's parties; nightclubs and shopping centers are full; and regular television programming continues. At least 120,000 of their fellow countrymen are dead, and Indonesians hardly talk about it, much less engage in massive charitable efforts. The exceptionally wealthy businessmen of the capital -- and the country boasts several billionaires -- haven't made large donations to the cause of Sumatran relief; a few scattered NGOs have done a bit, but there are no well-organized drives to raise funds and supplies. We have seen nothing akin to what happened in the USA following the 9/11 atrocity, or the hurricanes in Florida of this past year."
A tad unfair on oil rich Arabs, perhaps; as noted in previous round-ups, countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have started pulling their weight recently. One shouldn't, however, overestimate Muslim solidarity - the traditionalist Gulf regimes aren't exactly enamored with the more relaxed South-East Asian Islamic states. Ironically, though, the Aceh province is the most conservative part of the region, governed as it is by Sharia law. For an interesting overview of the "whys and why nots" of the Arab aid effort see this article ("The Indonesian government has refrained from public comment, but the slow response of their fellow Muslims in the Arab world has been noted. 'Generally speaking, people [here] are quite disappointed' about the Arab reaction, says Azyumardi Azra, rector of Indonesia's State Islamic University.")

the Arab press continues to be unimpressed with the US response. The Diplomad (yes, him again) has more on the American aid effort so far.

In news possibly related to the recent Oil for Food scandal, the UN has now accepted an offer from PricewaterhouseCoopers to
audit the aid effort.

On the non-government front, Chuck Simmins is continually updating his
"Stingy List" of private American donations, now standing at over $0.5 billion. As for Hollywood generosity, he emails: "One addition to the Hollywood tsunami donation list, Hillary Duff. So I know have four names, out of all of Hollywood, who have made donations to tsunami relief. But I am assured by Gabriel, and the folks at Crooked Timber, that there are loads of private donations being made. I know, those Hollywood folks are sure shy about publicity."

And from a different perspective, Kenya's Charles Onyango-Obbo writes that
"Tsunami Showed What World Thinks of Africa":

"The tsunami disaster is scary, but one wonders what a Rwandan genocide survivor thinks of it. Nearly one million people were killed in the 1994 Rwanda genocide, six times the number killed by the Asian tsunami.

"The world paid a little attention, but took no action. Why the difference?

"This cannot be explained by racism against black people. In fact, if it were racism, it would be good news, because then we could hope that the world would one day change its ways, or even be embarrassed into responding with equal care and generosity to Africa's tragedies.

"Rather, this difference reminds us that Africa has been institutionalised in the global mindset as a failure. The result is that the international aid it receives (most of it official development assistance) has become inelastic; it's unlikely to increase no matter the scale of the crisis."
The politics and agendas: Brett D. Schaefer of the Heritage Foundation not surprisingly maintains that "'Unilateralism' Saved Lives In Asia":

"Over the next few weeks and months, the news coverage will be full of praise for the U.N. relief effort in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, India and other countries hard hit by the tsunami. Some of the praise will be deserved -- no doubt many people will be aided by the U.N. effort. But letÂ’s not forget that without the rapid response by a few motivated and capable nations, including the 'unilateral' United States, thousands of people who might otherwise be dead are alive today.

"The Secretary General was right to say disaster relief is a race against time. Fortunately, nations capable of running at the crack of the starting gun are providing the U.N. the time necessary to find its shoes."
(hat tip: Dan) John O'Sullivan, meanwhile, notes what's really at stake in the current international skirmish: "For the U.N. and its claque, helping the stricken takes second place to getting the credit. They have to obscure the realities revealed by the tsunami crisis. Otherwise, American generosity will re-fashion the global image of the U.S. as a callous superpower and American efficiency will shame a U.N. still struggling to catch up with American aid efforts. And if the U.N. cannot perform its basic task of disaster relief as well as independent nation states like the U.S., Australia, and India, then its claim to be the center of a future system of 'global governance' will wither and die."

You can also read this back slap at the UN from India's
Kanchan Gupta.

Problems in Aceh - and elsewhere:
Australia warned: "A hardline Indonesian Islamic group has attacked the presence of Australian aid workers in tsunami-devastated Aceh... Habib Rizieq Shihab, head of the Islamic Defender's Front (FPI), said Australian assistance in Aceh could herald the start of an East Timor-style intervention designed to secure independence for the troubled northern province."

No specific threats have been made against the 500 Australian troops in the region. The troops, by the way, will remain unarmed.

The next day, however, brought an
angry response from various Islamic Defenders Front personalities:

"Leader of the Islamic Defenders Front in Jakarta, Habid Rizieq Shihab vehemently denied earlier reports that his group opposed the presence of foreign aid workers...

"Radical Muslims today have vowed to protect foreign aid workers. 'If you have come to help people in this disaster, we welcome you and will defend you,' said Hilmy Bakar Almascaty*, the leader in Aceh of the Islamic Defenders Front.

"Dr. Almascaty went on to say that foreigners coming to the aid of the Acehenese were 'angels' while foreigners in Iraq were 'devils'."
While the FPI might be having problems finding a common approach to Australian and Americans, the spiritual godfather of Indonesian radicals, Abu Bakar Bashir, is far less sanguine:

"The spiritual head of Jemaah Islamiah says he is losing the battle for the hearts and minds of Aceh's tsunami survivors because of the humanitarian assistance from Australian and US military forces.

"A spokesman for Abu Bakar Bashir said the Indonesian cleric, who is on trial for terrorism, regarded the relief operations by Australian and US military personnel as a dangerous development, overshadowing the role of the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI).

" 'We are suspicious of the presence of foreign soldiers and their show of force and the minimum publicity given to assistance from Arab states,' said Fauzan Al Anshari, a spokesman for Bashir's militant Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia group.

" 'It's dangerous, this idea by Acehnese that US and Australian forces are their guardian angels -- more popular than the TNI'."
On a non-government level, Christian aid groups working in the province have been warned against trying to use the disaster to make converts.

* You might remember Hilmy Bakar from
my round-up of tsunami quotes, with his statement that "It's OK that aid from the United States is here... If they open bars, sell alcohol or open prostitution centers, then we will fight them." I guess he wouldn't approve of this humanitarian assistance:

"A German brothel owner has been so moved by the plight of survivors from Asia's tsunami disaster that she is donating part of her takings from clients.

" 'It's not every day you can make a charitable gesture by going to a brothel,' said Mercedes Mueller, who is giving 5 euros ($NZ9.57) of the 39-euro entrance charge clients pay...

"Mueller said clients, prostitutes and the public had all responded with great enthusiasm to her gesture, and that about 1300 euros had been raised so far."
Meanwhile, in India the aid is not reaching everyone: "The dalits or 'broken people' of southern Tamil Nadu state are doubly damned. They were battered by the tidal waves, and those who survived are being denied food, water, toilet facilities and space to recover in overcrowded relief camps, aid workers said."

Also from India, more evidence that aid might be reaching
more than just the victims:

"The State Beggar Relief Committee is mighty pleased these days. It owes it to tsunami. A majority of the city's beggar community has left Bangalore's streets for greener pastures. Over the fortnight, temples, mosques and churches, bus stands and railway stations, Shivajinagar and city market areas witnessed fewer beggars.

"Pitching tents en route tsunami-affected areas, particularly Nagapattinam and Cuddalore districts, they are in a bid to lap up relief materials meant for tsunami victims. It's complete relief: they have their begging bowls full with packaged food and water, clothes, blankets, buckets, cooking stoves etc."
The impact: BBC has a good overview of the economic impact of tsunami on each of the affected countries in the region.

The rumors: ...are running aplenty in the affected areas. In
Sri Lanka, "Consumers still decline to buy fish based on rumours that they have fed on human flesh. In poor villages, families mull over the prophecies of the assorted soothsayers who predict that another giant wave will descend on them."

A Muslim cleric, meanwhile, thinks that
Allah signed his name on the waves. See the image here (scroll down).

The future: Blogger and journalist Amit Varma, who for the past 10 days has been traveling through Tamil Nadu, India's most affected state, has put together
some useful lessons from the disaster.

Contrary to initial (media and NGO) panic, there have not been any outbreaks of
disease in the tsunami-affected areas.

One of the UN agencies, meanwhile, is pushing for a
global tsunami warning system: "Laura Kong, director of the International Tsunami Information Center, said in the press conference, UNESCO is going to provide a 'leadership role' in the system, because of its rich experience in tsunami warning and in coordinating international efforts." I think I've heard similar sentiments before.


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