Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Tuesday tsunami update 

Your friendly Agence France Presse reporting: What else did you expect?

"US Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived here [in South Asia] to show the US flag and assess needs in the unprecedented international relief effort under way after last week's Asia tsunami catastrophe...

"Their trip came with the Bush administration still on the defensive over criticism it was slow to react to the December 26 tsunami that battered a dozen countries across the Indian Ocean and killed more than 145,000 people."
How come when Kofi Annan visits the disaster areas he's not reported as "showing the UN flag?" Beats me. It probably beats the Diplomad too:

"Day 9 of the tsunami crisis.

"I know I had promised to lay off the UN for a bit... but I can't. As one reader commented on a previous Diplomad posting on the UN, 'it's like watching a train wreck' -- you know it's horrible, but you've just got to look at it.

"In this part of the tsunami-wrecked Far Abroad, the UN is still nowhere to be seen where it counts, i.e., feeding and helping victims. The relief effort continues to be a US-Australia effort, with Singapore now in and coordinating closely with the US and Australia. Other countries are also signing up to be part of the US-Australia effort. Nobody wants to be 'coordinated' by the UN. The local UN reps are getting desperate. They're calling for yet another meeting this afternoon; they've flown in more UN big shots to lecture us all on 'coordination' and the need to work together, i.e., let the UN take credit. With Kofi about to arrive for a big conference, the UNocrats are scrambling to show something, anything as a UN accomplishment. Don't be surprised if they claim that the USS Abraham Lincoln is under UN control and that President Lincoln was a strong supporter of the UN."
And this snippet:

"More on 'The UNcredibles': WFP (World Food Program) has 'arrived' in the capital with an 'assessment and coordination team.' The following is no joke; no Diplomad attempt to be funny or clever: The team has spent the day and will likely spend a few more setting up their 'coordination and opcenter' at a local five-star hotel. And their number one concern, even before phones, fax and copy machines? Arranging for the hotel to provide 24hr catering service. USAID folks already are cracking jokes about 'The UN Sheraton.' Meanwhile, our military and civilians, working with the super Aussies, continue to keep the C-130 air bridge of supplies flowing and the choppers flying, and keep on saving lives -- and without 24hr catering services from any five-star hotel... The contrast grows more stark every minute."
The politics of the aftermath: As BBC writes, "History teaches that disasters can make or break governments and shift international alliances." Read the whole thing.

Disasters, of course, also impact on local ethnic politics, and there's plenty of that in the region. Already, the separatist Tamils in Sri Lanka are complaining that the majority Singhalese government
is not doing enough to help them. But other observers are musing "Will disaster stir Sri Lanka peace?"

In Indonesia, the hardest hit province of Aceh has also been the most troublesome for the central government for the past three decades, with its own dreams of independence. And post-tsunami the
problems continue. As if chaos wasn't bad enough: "Separatists in Aceh, the Indonesian province ravaged by tsunamis a week ago, today accused the military of using the disaster to step up its campaign against rebels."

Better late than never: "Indonesia said Monday it plans to establish
an early warning system for disasters with its neighbours."

Show me the money: The latest from
Down Under: "Australia is preparing to take the leading international role in the long-term reconstruction of tsunami-ravaged Indonesia with an aid package worth more than A$500 million [US$388 million] to help rebuild hospitals and schools and restore water supplies in Sumatra. John Howard will fly to Jakarta tomorrow to meet Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The two leaders are expected to seal Australia's biggest aid package to Indonesia."

One Australian charity, however, is
pulling the plug:

"The Australian branch of aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF, Doctors without Borders) has become possibly the first in the world to ask donors to stop pledging money to its tsunami appeal. The local MSF branch paused its appeal after reaching its $1 million [US$ 0.77 million] target in just three days. It decided it would be breaching its ethical code to collect money if it could not be used for its designated purpose."
Another Australian charity, World Vision, has rejected a $500,000 donation (US$ 380,000) from Clubs New South Wales, because the funds "were raised from revenue from gambling and alcohol." It's a free market of charities out there, however, and the donations has now been snapped up by Care Australia.

Meanwhile, the UN is worried there
won't be enough money:

"UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and emergency relief co-ordinator Jan Egeland expressed their gratitude for the promises of help from 45 nations. But both said they were concerned that some of the money would not be handed over. 'If we go by past history, yes, I do have concern,' Mr Annan said. 'We've got over $US2 billion, but it is quite likely that at the end of the day we will not receive all of it'."
Let's hope there will be as much media and international community scrutiny of this as of the shortfalls in money promised on the reconstruction of Iraq. Then again, I won't hold my breath.

Still, there is a fascinating asymmetry here for a right-winger like me: governments and international community underdeliver and average people overdeliver. The actress
Sandra Bullock's donation of $1 million to the American Red Cross certainly puts her in the international league (or certainly better than the Commonwealth Bank of Australia which is donating A$1 million (US$ 0.77 million).

The dregs: I haven't received any "Nigerian scam"-type emails about the tsunami yet, but
they're out there:

"Tasmanian police have announced an investigation into a website that purported to be collecting donations for the Red Cross tsunami fund and carried a postal address in the Hobart suburb of Glenorchy.

"The website, www.incybernet.com, had featured the Red Cross appeal logo, but was inaccessible by late yesterday due to increased web traffic. It claimed to have raised $10,000 for victims of the disaster...

"Emails falsely claiming to be from Oxfam and urging people to donate money were also doing the rounds in Hong Kong, according to police. The fraudulent messages, which claimed to be from the local branch of Oxfam, urged donors to deposit money in a bank account in Cyprus. Hong Kong police said they were unsure whether any money had been raised by the perpetrators."
There are dregs, and then there are ghouls: "In Britain, a 40-year-old man was charged in connection to a series of hoax emails sent to friends and relatives of those missing since the disaster. The email informed recipients that their loved ones were dead. Purporting to be from the 'Foreign Office Bureau' in Thailand, it was sent to people who had placed appeals for information on a website set up by the Sky News television network."


An "act of God"? Religious leaders ponder on
the Almighty's responsibility for the tsunami:

"Sydney's controversial Anglican Dean, Phillip Jensen, suggested it was God's warning that judgement was coming."
Hold your fire on that "crazy fundamentalist Christian" talk - other religions are joining in:

"[Jensen's] view [was] echoed... by Melbourne's most prominent Muslim leader, Sheikh Fehmi Naji al-Imam of the Preston mosque... 'We don't understand God's will but we accept it,' Sheikh Fehmi said. 'Islam says disaster comes from time to time to warn people and shake them up, make them realise they have left God too far behind'."
And the Buddhist response might even seem a tad nonchalant:

"[Buddhist leader Venerable Lama Choedak Rinpoche] said the tsunami was part of the collective karma of the universe, and could be a catalyst for peace, harmony and generosity. 'To us it seems very big, but when people sweep their driveway they kill hundreds of ants without calling it a tsunami. That kind of suffering and turbulence are happening all the time, and Buddha's explanation is purification of negative karma. It is not the karma of those individuals or punishment by a super-being'."
Over the past few days, readers were sharing with me their own anecdotal evidence, gleaned from local churches and internet discusson boards, of the view that the tsunami is God's punishment or warning for, variously, Muslim countries (Indonesia) or sinful countries (Thailand with its sex industry). Far be it for me to comment on matters theological (except to note that divine wrath is hardly a novel concept: see under "Noah's flood") but the tsunami obviously hit not just Indonesia with their Muslims but also Thailand, which is Buddhist, India, which is largely Hindu, and Sri Lanka, which is both, not to mention thousands of Westerners, some of the Christian, I'm sure, and many others post-Christian. And from the sin angle, Aceh is hardly known as modern day Sodom and Gommorah.

For a "Tsunamis are not the wrath of God" view, read today's op-ed piece by
Paul Stenhouse, a Catholic priest and journalist.

Meanwhile, the Melbourne "Age" has a readers' poll "Has the tsunami shaken your faith in God?" The
results so far:

"No, it is all part of God's plan - 13%

"No, evil things happen despite the power of God - 19%

"No, my faith is strengthened by the world's response - 13%

"Yes, a caring God would never let this happen - 3%

"Yes, I have now lost all faith in God - 1%

"I don't believe in God. This was a natural phenomenon - 48%"
The last response is perhaps the most interesting one, indicating not only there are large numbers of atheists among the "Age" readership, but also a confusion among the subeditors of that paper - God's wrath might indeed be supernatural, but no one is suggesting that the tsunami was not a natural phenomenon.

In the end, rather than trying to doubleguess the Lord, the best response for a Christian in situations such as this is to pray for the victims and show some Christian charity towards the survivors.


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