Politics of the Tsunami Disaster

The delicate balance between life and death is ultimately amazing, and the Tsunami that devastated Southeast Asia during Christmas time only reaffirms that we simply cannot predict the future. However, in times of distress, the world community must look to see what good, if any, we can take away from such a disaster.
Despite the violent and turbulent world that we live in right now, and the many conflicts and disagreements among several countries and organizations, many different countries and organizations have joined in the relief effort. Underneath this good will, however, politics reappear once again, tainting some of the good feeling obtained from this united effort.
The United States has given $350 million in monetary support alone. On top of that, we have sent Marines aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln to contribute to much of the relief work. Countless private donors from the United States have and are continuing to contribute supplies and additional money. Though I am confident that we are aiding tsunami victims out of our own good will since we have given so much more than any other country, I must ask if some of our intention is political.
We did not start our relief effort nor did we say anything about the tsunami disaster until Jan Egeland of the United Nations criticized the United States of being the richest yet the stingiest country in humanitarian efforts.
I am not trying to take away anything the United States has done and I commend President Bush on all the policy initiatives he has introduced, from sending Secretary of State Colin Powell and Gov. Jeb Bush to assess the damage to appointing his father and President Clinton to head up a private donations drive. I think all our humanitarian response has gone far above what was expected of us and we continue to be present in Southeast Asia because it is the right thing to do. However, political pressure was clearly in the mix here as well as in several other situations
It was not until China received some pressure about how they should give more, given how big the country is, from the international community that they increased their monetary contribution. Oil-rich countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait only started donating once they were criticized for not taking any initial action.
Looking at the receiving side, reports documented that Indonesian officials only allowed Israeli doctors into the country to help the thousands of poverty-stricken children holding on to dear life because they lacked clean water and proper medication after they were blasted by outside sources.
Also, consider a tsunami warning system. Such a system which exists in the Pacific Ocean (due to the tsunamis that have hit Japan in the past) was overlooked and blasted as an unnecessarily expensive investment by many Indian Ocean countries.
Such a system would have detected the 9.0 earthquake and sent out a warning to all the countries in the region of a potential tsunami. Beyond my understanding is why, with our technological progress, other regions such as India weren’t warned that a tsunami was coming after killer waves had already devastated other regions.
So what can we learn from all of this? Instead of declaring an ideal message of more unity and proactive policy that tries to predict the future, I simply want to point out that we should take some time to reflect and value our existence here on earth and not always take it for granted.
Instead of waiting for a clear reason, like a disaster, to occur before we volunteer or make changes in life, perhaps we should all do a little here and there; we should always keep our eyes open. With that, perhaps one day when others do need us, we will not have to be blasted politically to help and our intentions will be evaluated solely on good will rather than partially with political criticism.

Ben Leong is a third-year economics major.