Gweneth and I have just given a donation to Oxfam Community Aid Abroad. It’s a lean, efficient aid organisation that I can strongly vouch for (I used to be on its NSW board). I’d encourage others to consider giving to them, or one of the other tsunami appeals.
My greatest fears are for Aceh, where I lived for two years when I was a kid (we used to swim on those beaches on the western side of Aceh). The Acehnese people have had a tough time of it over the past few decades. Its hard line independence movement, and Jakarta’s brutal attitude towards it, have prevented the Acehnese from sharing in Indonesia’s good economic growth.
The most horrifying reports I’ve read today concern Meulaboh, a town very near the epicentre, which sounds like it might have been virtually obliterated. My father reminded me today of our trip to it when I was a child, "crossing river after river by ferry. Road firstly clung to the precipitous cliffs then the vista opened up to wide rice paddies before reaching Meulaboh."
So please, give generously. Your money can go a long way to helping the rebuilding process. And it wouldn’t hurt to put pressure on for more government assistance too. While most of what countries like Australia and the US give will come in the form of troops and planes to deliver other people’s aid, they could do better than the desultory amounts of direct aid currently on offer.
In particular, if the US is willing to spend $22.5 billion annually on pork-barrel projects, it surely improve on its current pledge of $35 million to all the affected countries together. Indonesia, a country that just lost more than ten times the number of people who died in the September 11 attacks, deserves more than a couple of million bucks from the world’s richest nation.
PS. Nothing I’ve read so far explains why the US was unable to get the message through to Sri Lankan and Indian police stations to clear the beaches. They had two hours, in which time the local police could surely have been alerted. It’s unhelpful to tell us that unlike the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean doesn’t have a tsunami warning system (tidal waves are rare, and most countries in the Indian Ocean are poor). We could’ve done with an international coordination agency, but some fast thinking and concerted action to contact the local authorities might’ve helped. Instead, those who knew the waves were coming seem to have sat on their hands. It was all over too fast for the Indonesians, but could more Indian and Sri Lankan lives have been saved?