Saturday, January 01, 2005


U.S. tsunami response—Simply disgusting

Okay. We already knew the U.S. is stingy with its foreign aid. After having first proposed $20 million for the tsunami disaster—about half of the cost of Bush's coronation—upping the ante to $350 million would have been a sensible way out of the embarrassment. Of course, I was immediately suspicious. After all, Bush loves to make pledges of help that he fails to keep, such as billions of dollars to help with the AIDS disaster in Africa. Then I came upon "U.S. block on tsunami funds cynical and shameful" at Reuters AlertNet.

Nick Cater writes,

In its warped response to the Asian tsunami catastrophe, the United States is seeking not to support and foster the United Nations but to damage its political credibility and destroy its vital capacities in disaster management.

U.S. President George W. Bush and his secretary of state, Colin Powell, have decided to set up a regional coordination group distinct from the United Nations, involving India, Japan, Australia and the United States.

This will have its own assessment teams, funding channels and, one suspects, political priorities, given the United States’ position as a superpower that desperately needs to find new friends, especially among the area's Islamic populations.

But the move, which amounts to an effective block on funding for the United Nations, is a vindictive decision, designed to punish the world body and, by its exclusion, the EU, for their stance over Iraq. It will be both costly - just wait for the duplication and waste, especially when military forces get involved - and shortsighted.

True, Jan Egland, the U.N. under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, should not have taken this moment to accuse various Western donors of being "stingy" with aid, although the initial U.S. response to his remarks appears to have been a welcome hike in its cash commitment to $35 million from $20 million.

Of course, Egland's criticism was overdue, entirely accurate and mild by comparison with the wholesale failure of the United States and most donors to miss by a mile the globally agreed target for overseas assistance of 0.7 percent of gross domestic product.

If such a target had been met, we might have seen serious and sustained investment in disaster preparedness in the region over recent decades, including the Pacific-style tsunami warning system that is now being demanded.

So who does Cater think is running the U.S. government—humanitarians?

Another story revealed the U.S. government's attitude in microcosm. Fay Wachs was fortunate to have been scuba diving when the wave hit. It undoubtedly saved her life. But little did she expect the treatment she received later on.

According to CNN,

Faye Wachs said she was impressed by the efforts of the Thai government and the International Committee for the Red Cross, but "she was appalled at the treatment they got" from the U.S. government, her mother said.

At the airport in Bangkok, other governments had set up booths to greet nationals who had been affected and to help repatriate them, she said.

That was not the case with the U.S. government, Wachs told her mother. It took the couple three hours, she said, to find the officials from the American consulate, who were in the VIP lounge.

Because they had lost all their possessions, including their documentation, they had to have new passports issued.

But the U.S. officials demanded payment to take the passport pictures, Helen Wachs said.

The couple had managed to hold on to their ATM card, so they paid for the photos and helped other Americans who did not have any money get their pictures taken and buy food, Helen Wachs said.

"She was really very surprised" that the government did so little to ease their ordeal, she said.

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