Take It As Red

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Wednesday, December 29


Incomprehension, Grief and Anger

It just gets worse and worse. First 10,000, then 15, then 23, then 60 thousand and the death toll still rises. And that's just the known dead: there are thousands upon thousands of stranded, orphaned, and injured children and adults, and the real scale of the earthquake's effect is only just becoming clear.

A child who has lost his parents and has no idea what has happened

The Independent front page has this picture, and he is just one out of too many to count. My heart breaks for them - they have lost everything, family, livelihood and home. Many more will die from water-borne diseases like cholera and typhoid, and from injuries because some of the islands are so remote that help will be a long time arriving. The scope of the disaster and its longterm aftermath are beyond comprehension.

What has struck me forcibly in watching and listening to the coverage is, that with all the violence that's happening in the world, Iraq, Beslan, Palestine, Darfur and the rest, it seems almost a relief that people are able to feel uncomplicated grief for once because this is a natural disaster. We don't have to consider the politics of the thing; who's right, or who's wrong, or what will the US think, what will Putin do, what will Ariel Sharon say next? It doesn't matter, earthquakes and tsunamis just happen, and make politics irrelevant. The feelings we have for those caught in man-made political disasters may be equally real but they are complicated by our moral difficulties with cause and effect. It is almost a comfort to be able to turn to the tsunami coverage and feel only uncomplicated human sympathy.

However, there are politics to this. The disaster happened on Sunday but it's not until 3 days later that the UN finally managed to arrange a meeting of all the relevant aid agencies. From the current President of the richest nation in the world very little is heard, other than the obligatory ''How sad''. So far the aid pledges are in mere millions, not the billions and trillions that will be needed to rebuild. This is not just a tragedy for the people killed and injured, but an economic disaster for the whole region. How many will go to Thailand on holiday again for example? Who will replace the fishing fleets? Did anyone have insurance? What about the schools, the hospitals, the sewage systems the roads, the infrastructure generally? Can Asia ever recover?

Burying the unknown in mass graves in Sri Lanka, courtesy BBC

What about people like the Andaman Islanders, one of the region's last aboriginal ethnic groups? No-one knows: they may well have been completely wiped out. Also the Maldives, which was on the verge of its first democratic elections ever. Will this derail the democratic process? Bandah Aceh in Indonesia, one of the most hard-hit areas, had been cordoned off by security forces against Muslim rebels. How will this tragedy affect the political situation in Indonesia generally, which is volatile at the best of times? Is this the opening the radical Muslims have been looking for?

And speaking of Muslim nations, where the hell is the Sultan of Brunei? He is after all one of the richest men in the world: with one click of his fingers he could fund the rebuilding of the whole region. Mind you this is true of many individuals in the region. Robert Kuok, of Malaysia, for instance, worth 4.1 billion dollars. The 10 richest men in Asia could sort this out standing on their heads. Of the 40 richest, 8 are Indonesian, the rest Thai, Indian and Malay, all areas badly affected. If they are not helping they should be ashamed.

For those who are not one of the richest men in Asia, ie the rest of us, Vaara reports:

[UPDATE 28.12.04 20.00: News media are now reporting at least 50,000 dead. Here in the Netherlands, an ad-hoc group called Samenwerkende Hulporganisaties has opened a Giro 555 account to help the survivors. Please, give as much as you want to whomever you choose, but give.]

And then give some more. And if you can't afford money then give clothes or shoes or spectacles or something: people are having to start again; they need everything.



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