December 31, 2004
Watching the satellite news channels, there is no doubt that this earthquake and tsunami have probably cost far more in terms of human tragedy than any other natural event in our recorded history. Of course it was much more likely to do so in a part of the world where overpopulation forces people to live in areas subject to flood, volcanic eruption, earthquakes, and any other natural event. The scenes of devastation are simply beyond comprehension, whole communities wiped from the face of the earth, entire towns reduced to rubble, and their populations either dead, dying, or trying desperately to hang on and deal with their tragedy.
The Aid Organisations have mobilised extremely quickly, and already, at least in those areas that are still accessible, aid is pouring in. I do find it disingenuous to hear the usual "spokespersons" mouthing their usual mantra of "not enough is being done to prevent further tragedy!" What the hell do they expect anyone to do? This is precisely the sort of political claptrap we hear from our own politicians who mouth off this sort of garbage to "assure the voters that we are doing everything we can to protect them". Yeah, like building a nice little nuclear bunker for themselves and their civil service cronies to sit out the disaster in. It is inevitably these people who grab the limelight but who never, themselves, actually have to get out there and deal with collecting the corpses, feed the starving, and comfort the dying, the mourners, and the survivors suffering from shock, but can always blithely tell those who are dealing with it in real time that "they aren't doing enough!"
Of course, this is, at the most cynical level, about getting more money. They need more money from the public and from governments so that they can deliver the aid and the assistance. But this constant abuse of the language, this constant mantra of "we must do more" accompanied by handwringing and mass media images of the devastation is becoming so overused that it may well, eventually, backfire on them. Then the aid will be too little and too late. As an ex-emergency worker I find the talking head mouthpieces used by the Aid Agencies downright offensive. Their bleating irritates the hell out of me and inspires in me the feeling that the efforts of those who are actually on the ground, who are doing everything they can, often at risk of their own health, safety, and welfare, are being belittled.
Naturally the talking heads will say that isn't so, that they are trying to get the government or governments to do more, but the reality is that no matter what the government agencies anywhere do, it will never be enough to deal with anything on this sort of scale. In the end it all comes down to the people on the ground, the people at the coal face who must actually deal with whatever the disaster with whatever they have to hand.
The Abbey has launched a collection appeal for the victims and for the relief efforts. There is a collection point in the Abbey with a member of the congregation or the ministry team in attendance to speak to people and to thank them for their donations. This money will be given to the Aid Agencies to use in the relief effort. It is the least that we, at this distance, can do. We will also be praying for all those caught up in the disaster, for those who have been bereaved, for those who have died and who have no one to mourn for them anymore. We will also be praying for everyone who is involved in the relief effort, for the emergency services, medical services, military, and police who must deal with the aftermath.
As the death toll continues to rise inexorably, let us hear less of the bleating about "more must be done" and see a little more acknowledgement of what is being done, what has been achieved, and some positive thinking on how and what can be achieved when the human race combines its efforts in rendering assistance to those in need. The UN Aid Commissioner has summed it up extremely well, saying that he can recall no other event in which he has seen so much money and aid pledged within three days of a disaster. The world is responding, and let us hope it will continue to respond to aid those in the affected Region.
That said, it is a little disquieting to see that almost nothing seems to be happening in the devastated areas of Somalia and there is little reported from the coast of Africa, from Reunion, the Seychelles, Mauritius, and Madagascar, all of which have also been hit by this surge. Admittedly they are not at the centre of this disaster, but they will also have need of our prayers and assistance. Let us hope that someone among the many Aid Agencies now competing for recognition of their appeals is also looking to see what is needed at some of the more remote areas. It does not seem to be the case at present.
There is also the danger, as this aid programme gathers momentum, that the human tragedy will become submerged in the sheer scale of the statistics being churned out in its wake. The size of the relief effort is already becoming more of a focus than the people being helped, the cost is already assuming the prominence that should be accorded to the individuals desparately trying to hold onto their sanity, their livelyhoods and their very lives. It is a very human tragedy, it is not an exercise in logistics or in "doing more to prevent ..." - this is about actually providing help, restoration of lives and livelihood, and about the people. Above all it is about the people.
We must never forget that.
Posted by The Gray Monk at December 31, 2004 09:03 AM