Tsunami disaster: Will the West’s aid ever arrive?

The generous response of people worldwide to the plight of the tsunami victims is a graphic example of human solidarity and internationalism.

Donations of people in advanced capitalist countries in Europe, north America, Japan, Australia, etc, shamed world leaders like Blair and Bush into vastly increasing government aid to countries hit by the tsunami.

However, how much of this aid promised by governments will actually be delivered? If previous disasters are anything to go by, the surviving victims of the tsunami could stay impoverished for years.

When, for example, hurricanes devastated central America in 1998, £4.8 billion was pledged by governments, but only £1.6 billion (33%) was delivered.

After floods struck Mozambique in 2000, £214 million was pledged but only £107 million (50%) was delivered. Today, roads remain unrepaired and many people still have no access to clean water. According to The Independent (7 January): "No sooner had the floodwaters receded than the aid dried up".

When an earthquake razed the Iranian city of Bam in December 2003, killing 31,000 people, around $1 billion was pledged but only $17 million (2%) was delivered. Some 150,000 survivors still live in tents or small containers.

UN officials say some pledges for Bam that were fulfilled were for items no longer needed. They ended up in a warehouses, or may have been siphoned off by the Iranian government.

But when the disaster hits closer to home and, moreover, is of political importance, then the wallets of capitalist politicians are opened wide.

The US state of Florida is run by George Bush’s brother Jeb Bush. It was a closely fought battleground between Republicans and Democrat in the 2000 presidential elections. So when Hurricane Charley tore through Florida last August, just three months before the 2004 presidential election, George Bush wasted no time in allocating $3.17 billion in federal and state disaster assistance.

By December 2004, 97.2% of those eligible applications for housing and related needs had been processed and approved. George Bush was, of course, comfortably re-elected in Florida.

From The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, cwi in England and Wales

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January 2005