Rude Awakening


Being on vacation, you sometimes lose track of the news. I was essentially offline for two days, and avoiding newspapers, so it was only when my father-in-law flipped past Fox News that I first heard about the devastating earthquake and tsunami that rocked the Indian Ocean two days ago. Since then, Erin and I have been listening to NPR, agog as the casualty figures keep going up and up. First there was a mind-blowing 24,000 dead, then 52,000, and now 80,000. I predict the numbers will pass 100,000 before this day is up.

Dan said to me that this piece of news has affected him more than 9/11, and 9/11 affected him incredibly. I’m just stunned, but there is something deeply horrible here that I can’t fathom, beyond the obvious size of the death and devastation — moreso than watching the four hurricanes kick Florida about. What is it, do you think? Is it simply the numbers? Or the fact that the people affected are those who can least afford this type of disaster? Was it the fact that the whole Earth shook, and our days were shortened by 3 microseconds? Or just the combination of “earthquake” and “tsunami” puts in your mind a nightmare scenario of the Earth opening up and saying “die!”

Maybe it’s at least partly because the people affected seem so incapable of dealing with such a tragedy. These are among the world’s poorest nations, here, and many of these would not have warranted our attention had not disaster occurred. I think we see a sign of this in the way the governments have handled disaster relief. Initially, the Bush Administration handed down $20 million, and when that was criticized as being too paltry, they upped that number to $35 million. It is rather stingy. Canada, a nation a tenth the size of the United States, now leads the world relief effort with $40 million, but even that’s up from a miserly $4 million.

The way the governments are tripping over themselves upping their relief amounts, especially after a U.N. official criticized earlier commitments as too stingy, gives this disaster something of a PBS pledge break feel. Who do you think will break the $100 million barrier and be entitled to a complementary mug? I wonder if there was a lingering sense from the various administrations that these people didn’t merit the same attention as, say, Florida would have had they been afflicted by the same disaster.

No matter where you are, you matter — or, at least, you should. Give generously. Give.

Web Pages You Need to Know

Jim Elve has put together a separate blog on how you can help deal with the tsunami disaster. It contains links to qualified agencies able to take your money and goods and put them to good use. As Toronto Mayor David Miller and Toronto Chief of Police Julian Fantino noted, you should give only to qualified agencies like the Red Cross. Sad to say, but you can expect scam artists to try to benefit from this tragedy, as they did with 9/11.

Also note that the CBC has a backgrounder on the disaster, which includes links to tsunami blogs, and phone numbers and e-mail contacts of the charities helping to deal with the crisis.

UNESCO has put together a chilling graphic of the tsunami’s progress. Thanks to Warren Kinsella for the link.

Take the Nightmare, Turn it a Bit…

Via Pogge, check out this note on Just a Bump in the Beltway. This poster has long been keeping tabs on the possibility of the Avian Flu becoming the next influenza pandemic, and she suggests a nightmarish confluence of events:

There is a big wild card in all of this: the disaster in Southern and Southeast Asia. The breeding ground of H5N1 is the far east and the earliest cases came out of Thailand and Viet Nam, territory where we now have large populations of refugees, little in the way of public health infrastructure and next to nothing in communications infrastructure. This is a very frightening scenario, as various kinds of digestive and respiratory ailments will begin surfacing as soon as this weekend in stressed populations with very little in the way of fresh water. Aid workers themselves are likely to be among the first line of a variety of infections. In addition to the predictable sequellae of disease in the face of a natural disaster of this scale (typhus, cholera, TB) we’ve got these three emergent strains of influenza about which little is known lurking in animal populations.

Keep watching the news…

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