Sunday, May 28, 2006

Why does the caring stop?

Villagers grieve in Bantul. Photograph: Adex Berry/GettyThere was a deadly earthquake on the Indonesian island of Java yesterday. The death toll currently stands at over 3,000 and rising, with many thousands injured and an estimated 200,000 homeless. Mt Merapi, a nearby volcano, has been spewing ash and lava for a week now, and is still threatening to blow.

Britain has pledged up to £3 million to meet Java's immediate and urgent needs. The European Commission has offered €3m, and the Irish government has donated €500,000. I am sure that many other countries have also already pledged funds, or will do within the next day or so. There'll be fundraisers, appeals on TV, and NGOs and relief agencies in the region will urge the public to give generously. And I'm sure they will. For a week or so. Then it will all go quiet, and the world's attention will move on to the next disaster, the next drama, the next government scandal or the next piece of gossip about their favourite celebrity. And the people of Yogyakarta and surrounding regions will be left to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives - alone.

BAM, IRAN: A woman despairs sitting among the rubble in the earthquake stricken city of Bam, 04 January 2004. As many as 30,000 people are feared dead after the earthquake mostly levelled the town on 26 December 2003. Photo credit ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty ImagesDo you remember Bam? On Boxing Day 2003 this ancient Persian city was hit by a devastating earthquake which levelled it to the ground, killing an estimated 40,000 people and leaving thousands homeless. The world responded with aid, manpower, machinery, and pledges of immediate and ongoing financial and logistical help. Two years later this city has become a byword for drug abuse and an Aids problem that threatens to become an epidemic.

A year after the Indian Ocean tsunami, the Asian Development Bank reported that there was a shortfall of more than US$4bn promised for rebuilding India, Indonesia, the Maldives and Sri Lanka. Nearly 300,000 people died in the 26 December earthquake and sea surges. Many thousands more saw their homes and livelihoods destroyed.

Cleaning up - March 2005: Nusa village life during the first major clean-up. The white building with Polindes Desa Nusa written above the door is the village clinic set up by the health ministry. Photograph: ZakariahRemember the outpouring of grief and sympathy from around the world that led directly to a huge outpouring of aid money from people like me and you for the victims of the tsunami? Remember how some governments (George Bush and Tony Blair, I'm looking at you!) were shamed by their own people into increasing the amount of official aid pledged on behalf of their country? So why was it that in March 2006, while many people in affected areas were still living in rotting tents, unable to yet rebuild their homes and their lives, the British government was demanding the return of millions of pounds in unspent tsunami aid, which had become mired in bureaucracy and remained unallocated and unused?

Finding refuge - August 30: Leeland Martin (left) pulls his brother, Milton, to the shelter in the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans. Photograph: John Rowland/APAnd how about New Orleans, eight months after Hurricane Katrina? On 22 May 2006, when Ray Nagin was re-elected mayor, more than half of the city's population of 462,000 were still evacuees living outside the city, including some 200,000 registered voters.

Why is it that, after an initial burst of enthusiasm/horror/outrage/sympathy amongst both governments and individuals, where money is pledged, promises are made, and help is offered; why is it that we allow our governments to so quickly renege on their pledges, break their promises, and forget that they offered help? Is it because we ourselves forget? Because we are too embroiled in the minutiae of our own lives to really have time to care about someone else for more than a moment or two of initial shock and empathy? Is it because governments the world over realise that they can initially offer money in order to look like they care and then quietly "forget" to pay up, knowing that we, their people, will have forgotten all about it in a week or two? Is it perhaps that we trust our politicians too much - that we assume they will keep the promises they make on our behalf?

Whatever the reason, I know we can (and should) do better. We are all citizens of the world, whatever our nationality. We should be able to trust that our politicians (who work for us, by the way!) will do the right thing, and keep the promises they make. It's a pathetically unlikely hope, I know, given the state of many governments today - but in that case, we the people need to stand up a bit more often and with a bit more vigour and demand that our leaders do the right thing - and keep at them until they do. Maybe it's up to us, as citizens of the world, to ensure that the caring continues, and that our leaders realise we won't allow it to simply stop before the work is done.

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Shadylil said...

EEEE!! Nice blog, Webweaver! Now you just have to tell me how to get text in the header. I like that and would like to do that on my blog, too.


webweaver said...

Hi Shady!

Thanks for dropping by!

The text in the header is called the description. If you look in your template, near the beginning of the page you should see something like:

p id="description" $BlogDescription$ /p

(I had to leave the brackets out cos the comments won't accept them)

That bit of code pulls in the description. If you go into Settings/basic on your dashboard, you'll see a box marked "description". Type whatever you want in there, save your changes and republish and it will appear on your page under your header. Easy!

Let me know if it works...


The ConCLAYve-Nan said...

Great blog. I know I watched CNN simply stunned by the continuing devestation in Indonesia. Why do we forget after our initial shock wears off? Certainly the fact that our governments don't do more to remind people to stand up is part of it. The media is on to "other" things. And, sadly, I think we've become a jaded society, greedy for material things and interested in gossip rather than people. I remember reading a quote by Pete Seeger that I'm paraphrasing here . . . but he talked about living in a world where no one needed to aspire to be a millionaire. To think of a world where you were able to live, afford a home, health insurance, had a job, a family, a life. What a wonderful thought. Instead we "aspire" to be Donald Trump. Go figure.

Shadylil said...

I'll try it tomorrow. Thanks

Shadylil said...

OK, I got the words in (great directions). do I get a pretty background behind them????

webweaver said...

Hi Shady!

Check your latest blog post for a huuuuge reply from me on how to put a background image on your header.

Have fun!

webweaver said...

Hi Nan!

Thanks so much for your kind words about this post. I spent an afternoon writing and researching it, and I'm pretty pleased with the way it turned out. I'm so glad it struck a cord with you.