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Friday 7 January 2005

Tsunamis, Africa & Secular Humanism [Brit]

We really are a funny bunch.
As everyone knows, large numbers of people are dead or missing due to a tsunami event off the coast of Sumatra - and the global response has been phenomenal. If we ignore the political positioning and limelight seekers that such tragic events attract by default, we are still left with an outpouring of solidarity the likes of which are unsurpassed in recent memory.
The public response to the current disaster has been a sight to behold - at every corner, in every shop, and on every media outlet we are asked to contribute - and contribute we have - to the tune of £100m in the UK alone. Issues of politics, religion, and race have been literally ignored as those unaffected race to help those in need. Issues of practical need backed by round the clock facts & figures and underpinned by hard science are being addressed at an astonishing rate.
Are we witnessing the start of a new revolution? A global acceptance that people in need are people in need regardless of what they might believe in, or the colour of their skin? Are we indeed witnessing an unwitting adoption of the principles of secular humanism?
This is of course something to be applauded and encouraged, and in a twisted way has added a highlight to the new year already - 2005 will be remembered as the year that saw mankind react positively and swiftly to assist its own.
Yet I cannot help but wonder why it takes a Hollywood style disaster to galvanise us into such generosity - when you think about it, such acts should come naturally and not require the overnight obliteration of 250,000 people and the displacement of millions more. Yes tsunamis on this scale are rare, and yes the tragedy was just that, but let me ask the obvious - what about Africa?
Millions of people die in Africa every year from diseases and conditions that appear as if straight from Dante's pen. We watch the documentaries, we listen to the politicians, and we attend the concerts, yet here we are decades later still watching Africa and her children die by the truckload. Of course, there are those that have struggled to get a tsunami style response to the African condition for longer than I've been walking the earth - I can only imagine how frustrating it must be to watch the world unite behind an appeal for aid, only to watch your appeals go unheeded.
Why is this? is it because the type of disaster suffered by South East Asia was so shockingly out of the ordinary that we feel compelled to act? Have we become so comfortable with the demise of Africa that we are happy to ignore her plight? How do we balance the goodwill and assistance seen in the last fortnight with the abject long term disaster sitting a few thousand miles away?
Of course, this is a new year and with such comes new hope. The UK takes over the leadership of the powerful international elite; the G8 group this year and regardless of your political persuasion, we must acknowledge that using that opportunity to massively reduce or altogether eradicate third world debt is a significant step in the right direction.
If we can move this quickly and help those who fell in a tsunami, we can move and help those who have needed us for generations.


  1. Third world debt is one hell of an issue. To wipe it all out would be silly, and just end up with hundreds more minister/dictators numbered accounts in Switzerland swelling. While I agree that the notion of wiping out third world debt is a step in the right direction, I feel certain very stringent conditions should be attached relating to spend on education and public health in particular, restricting military spending, and general clauses related to enforcing (or bringing about) democracy in said country.

  2. I cry foul!
    You do the great people of this bejeweled isle a great disservice Christopher. Are you forgetting Band Aid? Live Aid? Band Aid 2? Band Aid 20? Comic Relief? Children In Need? Poppy day? We're some of the most charitable people in the world largely... my missus is constantly amazed by home much the average Brit gives to charity in any given year.
    So what are we supposed to do? As citizens I mean. It would be unrealisitic and impractical to support asia/africa permanently with public donations. We already do enough surely? The real movement needs to come from the banks that reap the rewards of loan interest, the arms companies that help perpetuate civil wars etc for profit and the tinpot twats who run these countries.
    Don't write us all off just because we're not constantly popping five pound notes in tinseled buckets or selling our houses to give the proceeds to Ethoipia!

  3. Afty, its a fair point and one which has already been addressed by Blair & Brown in yesterday's 10am briefings. Essentially what they are planning to propose is a reduction/eradication of the poorest country's debt in exchange for their economies being run according to strict guidelines as prescribed by the IMF.
    Additionally, it was mooted on Question Time last night that perhaps there should be economic sanctions against countries in such a scheme to prevent them from purchasing arms & munitions (traditionally where huge chunks of their own budgets go).
    Of course, the IMF also has its many detractors... just talk to anyone who remembers the IMF 'helping' Argentina for that side of the story.
    And Doktor David - I agree with you completely, but you are I fear missing the point somewhat. It is unrealistic to support Africa hand and mouth with donations, and yes Britons donate a massive amount annually to various causes - yet the fact remains; Africa has been on the borderline of collapse for generations, and despite the odd concert or tinseled buckets, it remains that way... yet we rush to assist those caught up in the tsunami.
    I fear that once the waters have receeded there, we'll go back to our previous mentality of paying lip service to those screaming about the plight of Africa whilst simultanously not being too fussed about it.
    It just strikes me as very odd, is all.

  4. First of all, a lot of aid has gone to Africa. I also don't think its a surprise that people are showing particular generosity for this dissaster. It's an act of god, nobodys fault and a major tragedy. Africas problem is political, it's man made. People are simply less likely, and justifiably so, to donate to such a thing.

  5. That's right. It might sound a bit brutal but I can't see the point in sending starving people in Africa money when they so often appear so reluctant to help themselves other than having more kids they blatantly cannot feed.

  6. And if you add that the local helporganisations in africa wants the aid to *stop* because it has erradicated farmer skills for more than a generation one must wonder why some keep wanting us to give more. One idea would be for us, the EU, to stop forcing poor countries to buy our excess farmproducts at stupidly low prices. It kinda has the same effect, farming in some countries has gone to a full stop since they cant sell it...

  7. I saw an interesting report on News24 last night about the calls to suspend interest payments or even cancel loans completely in the Tsunami affected countries. An interesting point was made that these countries don't necessarily want the loans to be written off completely, because this makes them less likely to get essential loans in the future.