Sunday, May 15

ASIAN TSUNAMI RELIEF REVISITED -- DID "ACSOL" HAVE IT RIGHT?

I published the following post on Monday, January 31, 2005, pointing to what I found to be a provocative, post-Asian tsunami economic assessment by the Asian Development Bank of the magnitude of the devastation in the region and the bank's prognosis for recovery there. I came across this particular report via a number of searches I was doing in an effort to ascertain what the situation was and if there were any assessments that were in stark contrast to the ubiquitous appeals for money and government relief efforts. You may recall that the United States was being criticized in some international circles for not doing enough fast enough.

I wasn't, I promise you, being cynical. I simply wanted to satisfy myself that the truth was being told. I was new to blogging and was impressed with the widespread, detailed coverage of the tsunami and its devastating effects in the blogosphere. A number of bloggers did some exceptional reporting.

In that post, I wrote the following, based upon what I had read in the Asian Development Bank analysis:

As I read through the report, I kept thinking about the incessant appeals for money backdropped by the numerous firsthand reports of United Nations officials on the scene living high on the hog, affected governments interfering with relief efforts, tourism returning to posh, beachfront hotels even before bodies had been recovered, and the recurring question of whether the aid will get to the people who need it most. Even Colin Powell at one point, and risking international criticism, said the brakes had better be put on the charitable giving, as coordination efforts couldn't keep up with the supplies and money pouring in to these countries from the world community. Meanwhile, however, former presidents Bush and Clinton continue to appear in television commercials asking for contributions to the broadening relief efforts.

I welcome a different perspective from those in the blogosphere who have been monitoring the response to the devastating tsunami more closely than I.

But, you need to know something else. While my wife thought I was on to something, I felt I was in over my head and needed to get the attention of a real blogger-journalist -- someone with the instincts and experience to know if this was a story and who had the readership to give it some traction if that were the case.

So on February 1st, I sent an email to a highly popular, center-right, blogger-journalist looking for a link, to be sure, but also hoping to get feedback -- a litmus test -- as to whether I had stumbled upon something newsworthy or not. That person shall remain nameless, but I guarantee you the email was sent. Here are excerpts:

You're the professional journalist, not I. So I don't know whether this is a news' "TIP," as much as it is a question of you. But it's a sincere question, as my instincts told me the story had merit or I wouldn't have posted it.

If you'll read my post on a recently-released initial assessment of the impact of the Asian tsunami by the "Asian Development Bank," I'd like to know if you think it newsworthy or if it at least merits reference on your outstanding site. I do not get enough traffic on my blog to get the kind of feedback I had sought from the blogosphere. Fact is, my post did not generate a single comment. Your site would generate the feedback mine could not.

What I was driving at is there seems to be two issues at work here: 1) the accounts of human loss and exacerbated, post-tsunami, poverty appear accurate and deserving of the massive relief effort that has ensued -- money, medical attention, supplies, and so forth; however, 2) a portion of that relief and in whatever form it has taken (e.g., money, debt-foregiveness, reconstruction loans, and so forth) may have constituted an over-reaction from the world community, as precious little hard information has been in evidence or at least reported on by the mainstream media with regard to the true economic impact on the countries struck. Has such news been purposefully suppressed to encourage continuing aid that may end up in the hands of corrupt politicians and suppliers? Do the affected countries themselves merit such aid or just the people impacted and the rural villages and small towns in which they live?


I did not receive a reply to this email any more than I received "Comments" on my post. Perhaps it was as simple as I chose much too popular a blogger and this well-regarded individual can't possibly get to all the email that streams in everyday. But, I was deflated and decided I was reading far too much into the report and getting ahead of myself. So I put the breaks on chasing a story. Too new; too inexperienced; and too few readers. Simple as that. My wife begged to differ, but I didn't channel her encouragement.

Then tonight I find this post at "The Anchoress", in which she urges her readers to read a new column by a favorite of mine, Mark Steyn, in which he dramatically pulls back the curtain on what's really been happening (actually, NOT happening) on the post-Asian tsunami scene and in the wake of a paroxysm of charitable giving in the billions of dollars by governments and private citizens alike.

Steyn opens with:

Remember the tsunami? Big story, 300,000 dead; America and other rich countries too "stingy" in their response; government ministers from every capital on earth announcing on CNN every 10 minutes more and more millions and gazillions. It was in all the papers for a week or two, but not a lot of water under the bridge since then, and as a result this interesting statistic may not have caught your eye:

Five hundred containers, representing one-quarter of all aid sent to Sri Lanka since the tsunami hit on Dec. 26, are still sitting on the dock in Colombo, unclaimed or unprocessed.

At the Indonesian port of Medan, 1,500 containers of aid are still sitting on the dock.

Four months ago, did you chip in to the tsunami relief effort? Did your company? A Scottish subsidiary of the Body Shop donated a 40-foot container of "Lemon Squidgit" and other premium soap, which arrived at Medan in January and has languished there ever since because of "incomplete paperwork,'' according to Indonesian customs officials.

Getting the picture? Well, "The Anchoress," in reading the column, is rightfully indignant and felt compelled to post the following:

Go ahead, read it. READ IT ALL. Then, if your head hasn’t exploded, and you have managed to pull yourself back from an instictive resolve not to contribute aid to contries in dire circumstances (not because you have no heart, but because you are tired of the waste and fraud) ask yourself what purpose the UN serves and why the US is compelled to contribute 2-3 billion dollars to it every year?

Then ask yourself if you really want to keep electing representatives who have problems confirming someone who would like to see this corrupt international body actually get reformed?

You know, I'm sitting here at the computer at 9:55pm CDT on a Sunday night and feeling just a twinge of vindication. Maybe I had an angle on the international tsunami relief effort after all -- you know, a toe in the water at least -- and what appeared to be the ongoing clarion call for donations in the absence of any publicly-announced and publicly-explained method of accountability for ensuring that the billions collected and the supplies and foodstuffs it bought would get to the people who needed it most and in a timely manner.

You see, when a major bank in the region devastated didn't seem terribly overwrought about the prospect for near-term economic recovery, one had to wonder if there just might have been an international over-reaction on a grand scale; or, if not, that it might inevitably be tough to pump billions of dollars of relief into regions dominated by corrupt governments out of touch with their people.

Tell me this: why haven't two former presidents of this country been monitoring the relief efforts that they've attached their reputations and persuasive powers to in raising huge sums of money? Why didn't we hear it from them, rather than from Mark Steyn? Can they be oblivious to what Steyn knows to be the case. I DON'T THINK SO!

What do you think, Anchoress?