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A lot has been written since the December, 2004, tsunami struck in the region of the Indian Ocean. Some have written that the tsunami is a sign of God’s judgment on the people of the land. Others have pointed out that the latter-day prophecies indicate we will experience increased earthquakes, while others have questioned how a God of love could create such devastation and destruction. As diverse as the articles have been, one aspect of the tragedy and loss of life has remained consistent – that being the outpouring of help, financial aid and human generosity toward the victims of the earthquake. It can be easily said that no other natural disaster has unified the world with such speed and harmony as the recent tsunami. This month’s article will review the unified clean-up efforts in the tsunami area.

The tsunami

The word tsunami is derived from a Japanese word meaning harbor and wave. It is usually caused by an earthquake or a volcanic eruption, which, in turn, causes the formation of a very large tidal wave. On December 26, 2004, the world’s strongest earthquake in 40 years, registering a magnitude of 9.0, shook the Indian Ocean, resulting in a great force of water emanating from the epicenter of the earthquake. As the news reports trickled in from the countries affected by the tsunami, the death toll quickly rose. The Economist magazine paraphrased the disaster this way: “The victims — many tens of thousands dead, hundreds of thousands displaced, millions coping with loss — were, as usual, mostly the poor, vulnerable and remote. Entire villages of uncounted, nameless fishing people were swallowed by the sea that sustained them.”

How many died as a result of the tsunami may never be known. Entire villages vanished the coastline was redrawn and one of the largest disasters in the world was declared. Across the region, hospitals and mortuaries overflowed. In southern India, the authorities resorted to mass burials as well as cremations. Both the World Health Organization and the United Nations gave warning that as many could die from disease, malaria, dengue fever, typhoid and cholera, as from the tsunami itself. Clean water, uncontaminated by sewage, was the first essential. But survivors also lacked fuel, food, medicines and, often, even shelter and cooking pots.

A flood of aid

At first the aid started as a trickle and within days grew to become the largest relief effort ever witnessed. The United Nations gave warning that it would need the biggest-ever international relief effort. In particular, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan stated that: “What happened on 26 December 2004, was an unprecedented, global catastrophe. It requires an unprecedented, global response.”

At the time of writing, it looks like Annan’s request came to fruition. United States corporations had donated more to the tsunami relief agencies than they had for the September 11 disaster. It has been estimated by the United Nations that some $5-6 billion will have been donated from around the world. The most interesting aspect of these donations is that they have come from people of all walks of life and from different regions and nationalities around the globe.

Many nations have contributed

The New York Times reported, “Qatar and Saudi Arabia have each pledged $10 million, while Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan, the ruler of the United Arab Emirates, raised his country’s cash contribution tenfold, to $20 million. The Islamic Development Bank in Jidda, Saudi Arabia, said it would distribute $10 million in emergency aid to Indonesia, the Maldives, Somalia, Thailand, India and Sri Lanka.”

The New York Times also reported: “Prime Minister Wen Jiabao announced that China would donate about $63 million, one of its largest pledges of international relief aid. It was a marked increase from earlier in the week when China had pledged only $2.6 million.”

The higher figure was quickly eclipsed when the United States increased its pledge to $350 million and Japan followed with $500 million. Moreover, China has watched as American vessels have moved quickly into the region, with Navy helicopters delivering food and critical supplies to the hardest hit areas of Indonesia. This week, a convoy of American ships is expected to arrive in Sri Lanka with more than 1,500 Marines.

Israel – Arabs, one cause

An interesting aspect of the recent disaster is that Israel and the Arab nations are working side by side in an attempt to restore normalcy to the area. Rather than donate money, Israel opted to donate time, material and medical teams. Within hours of the disaster, the Israeli organization Latet (‘To Give’) filled a jumbo jet with 18 tons of supplies. A medical team headed by four doctors from Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital arrived in Sri Lanka on December 27, carrying medicine and baby food. The doctors specialize in rescue operations, trauma and pediatrics. As well, an Israeli rescue team headed to Sri Lanka with 80 tons of aid material, including 10,000 blankets, tents, nylon sheeting and water containers, all contributed by the Israeli Defense Department.

The vast majority of the dead are Islamic. As a result, most Islamic nations rallied around the lead of King Fahd of Saudi Arabia by personally donating of their money and resources. Saudi citizens brought money, clothes and other goods to a sports stadium to help support the victims. The Saudi government donated a military hospital – one that would work in coordination with the world organizations to help support and rebuild the area.

It is interesting that from a natural disaster comes a faint glimmer of hope – a glimmer whereby Jews and Arabs are working side by side with a common goal, that of restoring an area ravaged by God’s hand. Could this be a foretaste of things to come?

George Rayner

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