Grief, Relief and the Stingy West

by PAUL KINCAID JAMIESON

The horrific aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami has revealed what many in the world have known for a long time: Western nations are eager to exploit the under privileged, but slow to lend a helping hand in times of crisis.

In the past 72 hours we have all witnessed the scenes of devastation and carnage that has engulfed 10 nations. And we have seen Jan Egeland, the UN’s chief of emergency relief, speak eloquently of the stingy response of wealthy donor nations. Within hours outgoing Bush mouth piece Colin Powell staged a theatrically aggrieved retort wherein he said that the US is not stingy, and the US is the largest donor nation. Oh, is that so? But Mr. Egeland never mentioned the US by name, so why doth thou protest so much Colin?

Powell’s paranoid defense of American largesse came despite the fact that the sinking US dollar means that the contribution from the EU overwhelms that pledged by the US.

But the tragic facts remain: donations from wealthy countries have been shrinking steadily since the nineteen sixties.

On the other hand the spread of Western based industry into these very nations affected has been growing. All under the banner of Globalism. The sweat shop workers churning out the clothes you wear, or the soldiers guarding pipelines for precious oil. Don’t forget the forest companies and mining operations laying waste to virgin land in their unquenchable thirst for deposits of gold and minerals.

The brown people of the planet are getting to see once again the true nature of the white world. Ruled by power, money, and greed, the lacklustre response from the world’s wealthiest nations to this unimaginable disaster is a portent of things to come.

This is a model for the future. As global climate change becomes reality disasters on this scale will gradually become more and more frequent. And the cost to insurers and aid agencies will skyrocket. There will come a time when a line will have to be drawn. A time will come when the orchestra will be asked to continue playing as the ship goes down with those passengers in steerage who simply can not get out. There are only life boats for the rich, don’t you know. Sorry. Can’t swim? Try drowning.

In response to the tsunami disaster the Canadian government had initially pledged an underwhelming one million dollars in relief money. How can one put a value on such an insulting amount? In a moment of unbridled guilt the government increased this pathetic figure to a total of four million dollars. Adding to this insult, Canada’s Disaster Relief Response Team (DART), which is capable of setting up a water purification system and field hospital anywhere in the world, has been kept on the shelf. "It’s not needed, says the government. This while aid workers in all the affected nations are crying out for fresh drinking water as the number one need for the survivors of the tsunami.

Today the news from the White House is that the United States, after it’s churlish and paranoid response to UN representative Jan Egeland’s comments about stinginess, have undergone a Scrooge-like epiphany and have decided to lead a multi-national relief effort. Again attempting to do an end run around the UN. Again attempting to show the world who is in charge.

If Bush cannot form a coalition for Iraq, then he will form one for the tsunami disaster.

But, note to world: Iraq already is a disaster. A disaster manufactured by the United States.

The November blitzkrieg of Fallujah by the United States razed an entire city, reduced 300,000 people to living in tents, bodies of the dead lay in the streets and have been skeletonized by dogs. Where is the International outcry over this "man made disaster?

The Americans have the military power to inflict carnage on a grand scale. It seems to be what they are best at. But, after Fallujah, where are the aid teams? Where is the Red Cross? The Red Crescent? The search teams? The reconstruction? The television appeals for donations?

Like any bully the United States takes pleasure out of destroying other people’s things. Like any true sociopath the US is incapable of feeling remorse, sympathy, or of learning from it’s mistakes. Like any true psychopath the US cannot grieve for the people of South Asia. The United States can only see bottom lines and profit margins.

Is Coca-Cola donating free Coke to the survivors? Are Reebok and Nike donating free shoes? Is Wal-Mart pitching in? Well, no.

But, the United States is forming a Relief Coalition.

This is sick.

Oh, the bully must be in charge. The sociopath must have things his way. The psychopath will crush all opposition. And if you don’t want to play with him, then he,ll take his ball and go home.

News reports state that American troops will be sent into Thailand. Oh, that’s great. Another front on the war on terror? Time to clean up against the rebel Muslims in the South of the country?

The US will try to marginalize the UN. At least in domestic propaganda it is a guarantee that FOX, CNN, the New York Times and the other administration mouthpieces will deride the UN relief efforts. Imply there is fraud, mishandling of relief efforts, incompetence.

The UN will be forced into a corner: trying to defend itself against American belligerence, and at the same time attempting to organize and manage relief efforts.

What in the world allows the US to assume the mantle of responsibility over this disaster? What?

Perhaps because the US is such an expert on disasters it thinks it should be in charge. Disaster’s like Vietnam, Iraq, Haiti, and on and on and on.

No. This time the world must take a stand. If the US wants to contribute dollars with no strings attached, then fine. If not, then stay out the way.

And the sad fact remains that though we pay our taxes, our government’s purse strings are all but closed when it comes to helping our global neighbours. It remains for us to dig deep. It remains for us to contribute to the NGO’s who will end up doing the bulk of the heavy lifting.

So, again, like the pre-war Iraq protests, it will come down to people helping people. While our governments posture and puff out their chests, or like Colin Powell behave like guilty neurotics in front of the world’s cameras, it will be dollar donations sent into relief agencies that will form the bulk of the aid money that goes directly to the hardest hit by this disaster.

Another proof, as if we needed one, that governments have surpassed their usefulness to we the people, and have become servants of another master.

PAUL KINCAID JAMIESON lives in Vancouver, British Columbia. He can be reached at: pkj@pkj.ca

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