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?

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10 Responses to Aceh

  1. Joel Parsons says:

    Phoning police stations or the like in Sri Lanka and India would have taken initiative.

    My understanding is the seismologists in Hawaii work for a government organisation.

    Government employees are not known anywhere in the world for willingly taking the initiative.

    They aren’t particularly well known for their foresight either. If they had instruments which could detect Tsunamis in the Indian Ocean, why didn’t they have contacts in their address book? Their are earthquakes in India, surely India employes some seismologists?

  2. Joel Parsons says:

    P.S. You grew up in Indonesia. You aren’t an MK by any chance?

  3. Sinclair Davidson says:

    Be nice Andrew.

    Have you ever tried phoning a police station in a third world country? On the weekend? On a public holiday? As an experiment, try to find the number of your local police station. Now imagine how much longer it would take to find the number of a (insert country) police station from Hawaii, and then, even if it had been found, to convince the person on the other side that is wan’t a crank call from a drunken lout.

    In the absence of an actual communication system precisely for this purpose, I don’t think a message would have gotten through. Even if it had, remember many of the dead would not have had anywhere to go anyway. So lets not use this as an opoourtunity to bash the Americans (isn’t it amazing the Americans – half way around the world – knew of the danger, but the locals didn’t).

    I should also point out, we already have an international coordination agency. It’s called the United Nations. Given their track record, however, we would probably not want to involve them at all.

  4. Andrew Leigh says:

    Joel, what’s an MK?
    Sinclair, I still would’ve tried.

  5. Peter says:

    If you think that $35 million is all the US is giving then you need to research more. The US constantly gives to these nations (only to have thier own citizens blown up in return) and has already committed enormous amounts of logistical support to the affected countries. You can’t move ship loads of machinery and materials overnight like an aircraft can. Did you know that every year for the past 10 years 40% of the world’s aid in cash and kind came from the US government ? It is only the ungrateful corruptees of the UN that think the US is stingy.

  6. Joel Parsons says:

    MKs are missionary kids, one variety of a group known as TCKs (Third Culture Kids). Third Culture Kids are kids who grow up in a culture other than their own, but are not migrants. So not only do they live in between two cultures, (like migrants) they have the added twist of growing up as temporary residents. Examples of TCKs are the children of refugees, diplomats, international business people and missionaries.

    I guessed MK simply because I thought that it was most likely given Aceh isn’t exactly a common place to visit.

  7. ChrisPer says:

    Why don’t you research how much private individuals and corporations give from the US as well as Government?

    Now compare that with France. And Germany. And Australia.

    Good on you for contributing!

  8. ChrisPer says:

    Tsunami: Stingy??
    I think not.
    Pfizer: $35 million
    Coca Cola: $10 million
    Exxon Mobil Corp: $5 million
    Citigroup Inc.: $3 million
    Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: $3 million
    Merck & Co. Inc. is giving $3 million in cash while Johnson & Johnson and Abbott Laboratories Inc. are each donating $2 million; each of the three are also sending drugs and other health care supplies to the region. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. is donating $1 million in cash and $4 million in antibiotics and antifungal drugs. Roche Group and GlaxoSmithKline PLC were also planning to donate supplies and/or cash. Nike Inc., American Express Co., General Electric Co. and First Data Corp. are each giving $1 million. had collected about 87,000 donations totaling more than $5.4 million for the American Red Cross as of Thursday afternoon. [Now $6,286,000]
    Wal-Mart Inc. is setting up collection containers at all of its stores, in addition to a $2 million donation from its foundation.
    AOL members donated more than $1 million in less than 48 hours, according to spokesman Nicholas Graham.

    Catholic Relief Services is pledging $25 million
    By my count, that right there is $107,000,000 U.S. dollars. From private sources. Don’t forget, the people of the United States are the most generous people in the world. We don’t expect our Government to spend our money for us. We take care of that ourselves.


    U.S. rap/rock quartet Linkin Park: $100,000
    American Red Cross and CARE:
    The American Red Cross reported $18 million in donations over the past three days while CARE USA has taken in $6.5 million
    Times Daily:
    Wells Fargo & Co. donated $100,000 to the American Red Cross, as did Kaiser Permanente Northern California. Kaiser also pledged to send doctors to needed areas.[snip]
    Cisco Systems and its employees have pledged $2.5 million and will also provide communications equipment in disaster areas.[snip]

    San Mateo-based tech company SuccessFactors said it would match donations made by its 100 workers, which so far amounted to $10,000.

    San Jose-based software company Realization Technologies Inc. has donated $10,000 so far and said one of its consultants in India will be committed to the relief effort for six months while donating use of its business software for 18 months.

    The list goes on and on. We don’t need the Government of the United States to take our money and give it away. We are perfectly capable of taking care of our charitable choices ourselves.

    So as Americans give from their hearts, in the hundreds of millions of dollars, don’t call us stingy. We are not. And don’t tell us we don’t care. We do.

    BTW, the above looks like over $127 million dollars U.S. Not too shabby, huh?

    There are some things that only the United States Government can do. No amount of money sent to the Red Cross or the United Nations can dispatch a carrier battle group or seven water purification ships to the region.

  9. Andrew Leigh says:

    Well, whether or not it was fair to describe the US’s original contribution of $35M as stingy, I’m glad to see it’s just been raised to $350M.

    On why the warnings didn’t get through, this is the best thing I’ve read in recent days:

    Joel, I was a TCK (my father worked on an AusAid project in the local university in Banda Aceh).

  10. Joel Parsons says:

    Cool. I was a TCK, my father studied Turkish anthropology for five years while we lived in Istanbul.

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