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 subject


Timothy Garton Ash, Oxford, England

Well, given the paucity of response on this page, perhaps we have...

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.

Pete, UK

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?

Pete, UK

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.