Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Here we go again

Despite hysterical headlines in the British press (the Evening Standard in particular), the most recent earthquake in Indonesia has not caused another tsunami. There are, nevertheless, many victims. The Indonesian government’s estimate is anything up to 2,000, which does not help us much.

There is also a good deal of devastation and help may well be needed to deal with the immediate impact and to encourage rebuilding later. Though, let me remind our readers, Indonesia is not a particularly poor country and, with some help, will be able to rebuild the areas in question. On the other hand, the authorities seem unable to create a situation in which natural disasters do not cause quite such enormous devastation. Some conclusion might be drawn from that.

According to the ISN Security Watch
“International aid has begun arriving on the Indonesian island of Nias and other areas affected by a massive earthquake on Monday, but bad weather, successive aftershocks, and a lack of equipment have indered rescue operations.”
Let us have a look what this international aid consists of.

The UN, that wonderfully efficient and transparent organization, has set up a hub in the Sumatra port city of Sibolga and is wondering what to do next as the weather is very bad on the affected islands. It might send in Chinook helicopters (probably Australian ones). Then again, it might not.

Meanwhile, Australia and Malaysia have ordered transport planes, loaded with equipment, to be sent in to help with rescue operations and provide basic services and medical aid.

Singapore and Japan have offered to send in medical teams and Japan has also offered US$140,000 worth of blankets, generators, sleeping pads, and tents.

The Chinese government and Red Cross are pledging money, which will almost certainly go astray, if past financial pledges are anything to go by.

The American government is looking at whether US military assets are needed. The answer, given that Indonesia has a large well-equipped army, will almost certainly be no or only very minimally.

The US ambassador to Indonesia has provided US$100,000 from his emergency fund to help children affected by the quake, which sounds like a targeted, supervised project.

And the EU? Well, the EU has reacted in its own inimitable fashion:
“The EU’s executive commission has sent an assessment team to the affected area and said it would offer financial aid if needed.”
By executive commission ISN Security Watch means the European Commission, being, like so many other organizations, a little confused as to the exact truth of what the Commission does.

Well, there we are. We have sent a highly expensive assessment team that will almost certainly announce in due course that vast amounts of aid money is needed to help those affected by the earthquake.

At this point it may be pertinent to ask what happened to the millions raised through various campaigns for the tsunami victims. Did any of it help anyone and was any of it used to prepare the Indonesian islands to deal with whatever other natural disaster might strike? (Answer was suggested above.)

It might be pertinent to call our readers’ attention to a letter published in the Daily Telegraph on March 26. The author, who works for a grant giving organization reports that in Sri Lanka, wrote that
“three months later, with many millions of pounds raised, there is little sign of any funding from such organisations as the UN, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank or larger international non-governmental organisations,directed at rebuilding livelihoods and or providing more permanent housing.

There are many factors, such as bureaucracy, politics and corruption,that complicate the efficient and timely deliverance of aid. However, the immediate future looks grim for tsunami-affected families who now face the prospect of the coming monsoon season living in a tent with inadequate sanitation and drainage.”
This was written just before the Indonesian earthquake but could have been, presumably, about that country. Mr Lavender does report that individuals have set up various organizations that actually do help people and there have been many reports of people being able to borrow small sums of money to restart businesses.

Mr Lavender adds:
“It is scandalous that the vast amounts of money raised by public appeal in the aftermath of the tsunami are not being applied more effectively and with greater urgency.”
Scandalous it may be but hardly surprising and a man who works for a grant-giving organization ought to know that.

Still, he has a point. Should we not have some accounting of what happened to all the money that had been raised for the tsunami victims before we send any more money raised either voluntarily or forcibly through taxes?

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