Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Tsunami Empathy and Staying Power

Contrary to some news reports, the recent Tsunami is not the worst natural disaster, in human terms, experienced in modern times. According to the Economist Magazine, a 1970 cyclone in Bangladesh killed more than 500,000. A 1976 earthquake in Tangshan China may have killed more.

One reason this event has received such attention in the industrialized world is its geographic reach, but there is another that has received little mention. Most disasters in South and Southeast Asia only impact poor people with dark skins. This disaster killed a number of light skinned rich people - foreign tourists who might have been sitting on the Lanai of a posh seaside resort sipping coffee when a twenty-to-fifty foot wall of water engulfed them. Many of us could see ourselves there - imaging ourselves as flood plain slum dwellers in Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka or Indonesia would be more difficult.

The widely respected Colin Powell, has emerged as America's principal spokesperson on the subject of humanitarian aid. Secretary Powell was virtually an invisible man during the Presidential campaign, widely belived to be at odds with foreign policy and miltiary advisors who had President Bush's ear. He pledges America's 'long-term' commitment, even though his own term in office is numbered in days. We have heard nothing from his putative successor, National Security Advisor Condelezza Rice.

Rehabilitation in Tsnuami devastated regions is going to be a long-term process. America has now pledged $500 millions ($500,000,000) But we are reportedly spending $5 billions ($5,000,000,000) per month on military operations in Iraq, with no end in sight. What will be our staying power as deficits continue to balloon, while Iraq elections and the run-up to the Super Bowl supplant the faces of Tsunami victims in American news outlets?


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