Have we forgotten about the tsunami?
The beginning of 2005 saw an extraordinary world-wide
humanitarian response to the Indian ocean tsunami. But will it have
any longer-lasting consequences for the attitudes of the rich billion
in the world to the poor majority of humankind? Or have we in the
West/North already returned to 'business as usual'? now?
See TGA's Guardian column on this
Timothy Garton Ash, Oxford, England
Well, given the paucity of response on this page, perhaps
Michel Bastian, France
Timothy Garton Ash wrote:
Well, given the paucity of response on this page, perhaps we have...
Indeed, that´s one of the problems of our mediatic society. Anything
that doesn´t make the headlines (like Iraq, the US/European rift
etc.) is ignored by the general public (and, consequently, by the political
class since it has no bearing on popularity ratings). And it´s not
just about the tsunami (which did get quite a bit of mediatic attention).
Many relief efforts in many other countries have been completely forgotten,
and as a consequence receive little or no funding. Not very humane and
in fact very shortsighted of us, the so-called "rich" states.
We fail to understand the relationship between poverty and political instability
in the world.
Well the national news has certainly moved on. And here
in the UK with an election coming the Tsunami will almost certainly be
forgotten by the media and, no doubt, the chattering classes if they haven't
moved on already. But a personal story.
I have a son who had booked a holiday in Thailand to fly out just after
Christmas - initially to Bangkok, then to near Phuket for some diving.
He's a construction worker and not well off. Despite the tsunami, he still
flew out but stayed only briefly in Bangkok, then went to the coast simply
to help out in any way he could. He had heard that divers were needed
to help clear the coral reefs before they die and thought he might be
useful in that way. He's been there ever since, with others, helping rebuild
whatever he could with the materials available - mainly houses on and
close to the beaches in Phi Phi and indeed diving and helping, as he put
it, 'to shift large chunks of resort of the reefs'. He is working with
students from Scandinavia and I doubt if they are official aid workers
because apparently he is one of very few with practical construction experience.
He was there of course when the second 'quake hit and spent the next night
and day comforting his friends (as they now are) who, again in his words
'freaked out'. He says he cannot leave them and, one way or another will
stay to clear as much of the reef as possible before the rains come.
He has used all his savings and is sharing a small place with one of the
victims of the tsunami who has become drink-dependent and depressed. He
believes that the government want to bulldoze the houses that have been
rebuilt to build hotels etc. Many of those whose houses were destroyed
were probably squatters, those who weren't of course lost all their documents
when the wave hit. So they look like being homeless one more time when
the houses he has helped rebuild get pulled down. But I doubt things like
that will make the papers.
What does this all mean? I don't know. But I'm pretty sure the tsunami
won't be forgotten by my boy and that he will remember forever the faces
of the survivors he's been living with for the past 3 months. But when
he gets back, he'll be pretty desperate for work, he has big debts to
clear, a son of his own to catch up with ... and so it goes.
Christine Hyde, Australia
In Australia we hear news quite often, queries about the
rate of progress, or of more small groups discovered to have received
little help. Also about the difficulties for the landless. We are reminded
of the shock to the survivors from which they will never be able to recover
and of the destruction of the shoreline topography, which makes reconstruction
so difficult. However there is news of building and infrastructure slowly
taking shape and of the many volunteers working there, like Pete's son.
John Sebastian, France
The major problem with this arrogant assumption of the
free world is that it comes from a bourgeois perspective.
It's Ash's perception of communism is of Stalinism. He takes the capitalist
media analysis and distortion of Marxism and socialism and socialists
never get a fair hearing in a capitalist society. Socialist do not have
accecc to the media and are unable to challenge the daily distortions,
which wins the approval of Rupert Murdoch and Bill Gates.
Ash's perception of the free world is the free market. A liberal democracy
where a minority own and control the wealth and the means of production
and millions suffer poverty and hardship. Even in Britain millions of
workers are on low pay.
He then uses the free nmarket as an academic to sell books on the subject
and make lots of money, making his comfortable life style, shape him into
a good capitalist, with liberal leanings to ease his conscience.
He also unashamedly promotes his own son. Like a true capitalist, he makes
sure that his children come from an advantage bbackground and follow in
his footsteps and only get the best. Ash will make sure his kids have
good jobs and earn good money, unlike kids whose parents come from run
down housing estates.
Arlene, Key West, Florida, USA
Yes, we have forgotten the devastation of the Tsunami.
I recently (early August) attended a workshop presented by a fellow massage
therapist here in Florida. We have an organizstion that is providing on-site
seated massage for stress reduction to emergency responders and to victims,
usually after hurricanes. I ask her if she knew of any work being done
in the aftermath of the Tsunami and she looked at me as though I had two
heads. She recovered by saying that her focus is on Florida. I know that
for me after all of the hurricane scares in my community and the actual
damage done elsewhere, the Tsunami reminded me of how lucky I am and how
little my problems matter and in fact how little I matter. I try to live
a low impact life, living in a community where I can bike instead of drive,
trying to consume less and on and on. Yet it feels meaningless in comparison
to the destruction wraught by my country and by nature. I don't know how
to keep people focused on reality and!
not on the latest hollywood gossip or their next new car. I just want
to tell everyone to wake up, but who am I to tell anyone anything?
How differently we all see the tsunami and its aftermath.
Some individuals see the problems as political, some gave money generously
and maybe wonder where it's gone. The big media have generally moved on
- and yet, Time http://www.time.com/time/asia/2005/heroes/hi_phi_phi.html
reports on ordinary, mainly young, people still giving up their time to
offer hands-on help (in Arlene's sense as well :) ). I imagine these people
who got themselves there when they were needed are not the kind who subscribe
to political parties, seek publicity or claim to be 'proving' anything.
Perhaps we could do with more of their kind. As someone forgettable said
- 'stuff happens' the scruffy backpackers, divers and drifters did something
to help the people the stuff happened to.
As I said before - not forgotten: never will be by those who helped. Life
changing and, yes, I believe enhancing for those who were prompted to
help directly (without the aid of political theory, big inputs of cash
or publicity). Makes one feel good to be human.