Fri, Jun 10, 2005 - Page 9 News List

A regional tragedy helps to inspire a global remedy

By Douglas Paal

Images of the tsunami tragedy have faded from the news in many parts of the world, but 10-year-old Nevin Rae of Solesbury, Pennsylvania, has not forgotten. This elementary-school student raised US$17,000 from his fellow townsmen for tsunami relief. Millions of Americans have done likewise, reaching into their pockets to contribute more than US$1.2 billion to show their continuing concern. As President George W. Bush said, "The United States is committed to helping the people who suffer. We're committed today and we will be committed tomorrow."

The US is working with partners in the international development community -- from the Asian Development Bank, the UN Childrens Fund (UNICEF) and the World Bank to the Red Cross-Red Crescent and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) -- to rebuild infrastructures, restart economies, improve livelihoods and revive the hopes of disaster victims. Significant efforts are already underway; more is to come.

The 12 affected countries including Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and the Maldives are of course overseeing their reconstruction. But they can depend on the US and its international partners to support their efforts where it is most needed and in a way that is transparent and fair.


At Bush's request, Congress has approved US$857 million for tsunami relief and reconstruction in the Indian Ocean region. Of that amount, more than a third will go to rebuilding the infrastructure of the affected economies while about US$120 million will help victims return to their communities through programs aimed at recreating livelihoods, rebuilding homes and establishing temporary schools and clinics.

We will also use funds to replenish supplies for future emergencies and to improve international and US tsunami early warning systems so that people in this region will be forewarned of pending disasters.

Many of the grants to US government partners and local NGOs were for an initial three to six months and focused significant resources on developing cash-for-work and micro-enterprise activities to generate employment for those affected. More than US$6.3 million in grants have been made to support cash-for-work programs. In Indonesia, for example, cash for work programs employed more than 35,000 beneficiaries, providing US$2.9 million directly to workers.


US government assistance, however, is more than matched by the contributions of US businesses, religious organizations, academic institutions and individuals that have provided financial and personnel resources quickly and directly to affected communities. Over 130 US companies each provided at least US$1 million in cash, products and services including water purification systems, transport and basic food, water and shelter to local and international relief agencies.

Equally impressive are the ongoing efforts by individual Americans and NGOs. For example, Habitat for Humanity organized volunteer teams of construction specialists that will help 30,000 to 35,000 families rebuild their homes. The "Kids Tsunami Relief Fund" in New York City is raising money to help rebuild a school in Pottuvil, Sri Lanka, and a medical clinic in nearby Kirinda.


Not long after the tsunami struck, an Indonesian poet from devastated Aceh province wrote: "Never ask where Meulaboh is. Never ask where Bireuen is. Their maps have crumbled. Their maps have been washed away." Today volunteers from the American Friends Service Committee are helping figuratively to redraw the maps of Meulaboh and Bireuen, using more than US$4 million in donations to meet medical needs and rebuild a wounded society.

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