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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Saturday, December 31, 2005

One year on, the tsunami provides lessons

The Age: 24/12/2005"

The world must remain committed to the rebuilding process in the
devastated countries.

It took many days before the scale of the calamity was known and many more before it sank in. Two days after the Boxing Day tsunami struck southern Asia and beyond The Age editorial observed it was the second year running that a natural disaster had cast a gloom over the festive season. The paper noted how a year earlier the earthquake in the Iranian city of Bam claimed 31,000 lives, "an awful toll that might yet be exceeded by the latest disaster". It is an observation that provokes a shudder one year later. The final toll from one of history's biggest natural disasters is more than 230,000 reported dead and missing.

An estimated 1.5 million people are believed to still be displaced. We need only recall the tiny details of poignant suffering, the individual stories, to recapture the sorrow. Like Mani Natrajan, the fisherman in Cuddalore, India, who, clutching a tree, watched the killer waves suck out his family and later lamented: "Even one child I could not save." Or delivery man Yusmadi Sulaiman, still searching the post-apocalyptic streets of Banda Aceh one week later for his wife and four children. Or the anguished drama of "Baby 81", the infant Sri Lankan boy lost in the tsunami and claimed by many grieving adults until a DNA test allowed him to be reunited with family.

The disaster sparked a tidal wave of compassion and generosity; when confronted with our collective vulnerability, we cast tribalism aside. An estimated $A18.3 billion has been pledged towards reconstruction. One year later, however, it appears the process of recovery is only just beginning. In the hardest hit area, the Indonesian province of Aceh, most of the $5 billion in pledged official aid is still awaiting spending approval. Larger aid organisations have recently expressed concerns that three-quarters of the $1 billion pledged by the Australian Government for tsunami reconstruction is being directed away from the devastated areas. They also cite various logistical problems on the ground, including difficulties accessing the remote province and the scarcity of building materials. The challenge for Australia and the international community is to keep a watchful eye on the reconstruction process, to demand tangible results and accountability from recipient governments and non-government organisations - even after other disasters, present and future, grab at our hearts and our purse strings.

On other fronts there is cause for optimism and even celebration. Work is finally under way to install a tsunami early-warning system in the Indian Ocean. The tsunami helped cement Australia's emerging friendship with Indonesia- a relationship pivotal to stability and prosperity in our region. (Sadly the friendship was sealed by yet more tragedy when a Sea King helicopter crash on Nias Island claimed the lives of nine Australian Defence Force personnel.) The calamity also shifted the political ground in Indonesia's long-standing conflict with the separatist Free Aceh Movement, putting an end to three decades of conflict. While early hopes for a similar breakthrough in Sri Lanka's long-running civil war with the Tamil Tigers have faded, the influx of funds and innovative programs to small, conservative communities is helping empower local women. Again, it is the individual stories of transformation, of strength amid grief, which most inspire. Such as the journey of Trisha Broadbridge who now doesn't want to be known only as the girl who lost her footballer husband in the tsunami. She raised funds to open a local school on Thailand's Phi Phi Island, the place where her life fell apart, and plans to teach there in coming years.

A year later the tsunami gives cause for reflection on matters disturbing and uplifting, material and spiritual: the gap between rich and poor, the mystery of resilience, the fragility of life on Earth, our common humanity. It should not overwhelm the joys of the season, but it should give us yet more cause for gratitude.

On other fronts there is cause for optimism and even celebration. Work is finally under way to install a tsunami early-warning system in the Indian Ocean. The tsunami helped cement Australia's emerging friendship with Indonesia- a relationship pivotal to stability and prosperity in our region. (Sadly the friendship was sealed by yet more tragedy when a Sea King helicopter crash on Nias Island claimed the lives of nine Australian Defence Force personnel.) The calamity also shifted the political ground in Indonesia's long-standing conflict with the separatist Free Aceh Movement, putting an end to three decades of conflict. While early hopes for a similar breakthrough in Sri Lanka's long-running civil war with the Tamil Tigers have faded, the influx of funds and innovative programs to small, conservative communities is helping empower local women. Again, it is the individual stories of transformation, of strength amid grief, which most inspire. Such as the journey of Trisha Broadbridge who now doesn't want to be known only as the girl who lost her footballer husband in the tsunami. She raised funds to open a local school on Thailand's Phi Phi Island, the place where her life fell apart, and plans to teach there in coming years.

A year later the tsunami gives cause for reflection on matters disturbing and uplifting, material and spiritual: the gap between rich and poor, the mystery of resilience, the fragility of life on Earth, our common humanity. It should not overwhelm the joys of the season, but it should give us yet more cause for gratitude.


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