Tsunami Relief Posturing

I heard on the CBC News today of those criticizing the Canadian government for not acting quickly and decisively enough to provide relief to Tsunami victims. (Here's a helpful map giving a rundown of the damage) The devastation is truly staggering. On Day 5, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan cited estimates of the human toll of the tsunami: "At least 115,000 are dead in the region, half a million injured, one million displaced, and at least five million in need of immediate assistance."

The Organization for Economic Development points out that no nation has donated 1% of their "gross national income." Naturally, this is a completely arbitrary yardstick for appropriate aid levels. According to the CBC, "many opposition politicians and humanitarian aid experts have criticized the Canadian government" for failing to dispatch DART (Disaster Assistance Response Team) immediately to the region, instead sending a reconnaissance team first.

Initially, $4m was pledged. The following day, $40m was pledged. The criticisms were levelled at the government despite clear challenges in assessing the extent of the damage, assessing the aid needed, and developing means to deliver assistance. The fact that the tsunami made landfall on a Sunday during the holiday season while several of the relevant Cabinet members were abroad, including the PM himself, further confounded a comprehensive and timely response. Nevertheless, here is how Paul Martin describes Canada's response on Day 3, December 29:

"I have [...] directed Minister of Defence Bill Graham and Minister of Health Ujjal Dosanjh to coordinate the federal government’s response, Ministers Pettigrew and Carroll are returning to Canada immediately. Foreign Affairs Canada, Canadian International Development Agency, Citizenship and Immigration as well as Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada are among the federal organizations providing support. In addition, the following additional measures will be taken by the federal government:

--In total, $40 million has been set aside for immediate emergency relief efforts: $4 million already announced, $20 million to be detailed later this week by Ministers Pettigrew and Carroll, with the balance of the available investment and possible additional funding to follow the relief assessment on the ground;
--A second National Defence plane of emergency supplies will be deployed to the region, carrying water purification supplies to Indonesia;
--A multi-disciplinary team is being sent to the region to assess the situation on the ground and make recommendations on additional Canadian assistance, including the possible deployment of the DART;
--Additional consular staff and resources have been assigned to the region to assist Canadians who may be affected;
--In response to needs identified by international humanitarian agencies, the Government will explore the possibility of public-private partnerships"

The criticisms appear to be more political posturing than valid cause for concern. I think it's disgusting that opposition party members would use this tragedy as the backdrop for their reflexive, decerebrate contrariness. The immediate response to the tsunami must come from within the nations affected and their neighbours. Their militaries must be mobilized in the effort, and their citizens must be relocated out of harm's way to avoid compounding the problem with disease and further burdens to a devastated infrastructure. To think that by pouring money indiscriminately onto these inundated shores will achieve any good is naive. It may fool some by giving the illusion of action. But I like to think that Canada's government suffers fools reluctantly rather than pandering to them. So far so good Mr Martin. We've only just begun to help, but we're off to a good start from where I sit.

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