Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The Catastrophe in Southeast Asia

The 9.0 earthquake and resulting tsunamis in Southeast Asia have made every other problem in the world pale in comparison for the moment. I have felt unable to write about what I feel. Every day the reported death toll rises; it's up to 25,000 now, with thousands of people missing.

It's impossible to overstate the enormity of this event, in terms of the sheer number of human lives lost, the personal toll of emotional anguish and economic suffering for the survivors, and also in terms of the larger political, economic, and social costs to the countries involved. Nine countries were affected, including Somalia, 3,000 miles away. The island of Sumatra - yes, the entire island -- was moved 100 feet. The force of the earthquake was so strong that it affected the earth's rotation, and, the New York Times reports, one-third of the dead are children.

If any meaning can be scraped out of a tragedy like this, it's in the chance it gives the rest of the world to help the survivors. Katharine O'Moore-Klopf lists some of the organizations providing aid and relief assistance to the affected countries. An article in the Washington Post notes that most of the aid groups say that sending money is the most directly helpful thing to do, more helpful than trying to send supplies.

As an American, I am hoping that the United States rises to the occasion. This is a priceless opportunity to show the world the compassionate and generous side of our nation. The Bush administration has committed the U.S. to an "initial" $15 million in aid, and has sent disaster specialist teams to Southeast Asia. This is good, but we can do far, far better. The European Union pledged $4 million; are we to believe that an extra $11 million is all the world's richest country can afford? While we spend hundreds of billions of dollars for bombs and guns in Iraq?

Any additional help will probably have to wait at least a week, though. Pres. Bush is in Crawford, Texas, where he flew yesterday for a week's total relaxation on his ranch; and he has said he will not be doing any official business during that time. He did not even make his own public statement about the disaster. The White House Press Office issued a written statement on Bush's "behalf," saying that the President "expresses his sincere condolences for the terrible loss of life and suffering caused by the earthquake and subsequent tsunamis in the region of the Bay of Bengal."

No comments: