Welcome to 2005. Does anything make sense anymore?
While much of Asia tries to deal with the devastation of the Dec. 26 tsunami, we in the Western world have been trying to understand it. Of course there is no explanation, no reason "why", other than a bit of plate tectonic theory and the recognition that much of the world is too poor to afford tsunami warning systems.
One of the things that makes this natural disaster so hard to comprehend is there is no one to blame, at least not yet. When people die in an avalanche, to pick another type of natural disaster, there is usually some sort of inquiry to find out what went wrong and how such a disaster can be prevented in the future. Asian countries may find the money to implement tsunami warning systems after the immediate aftermath of this disaster is dealt with, but there wont be anyone to point a finger at.
Its one of the stages of understanding a modern disaster, and of keeping a news story alive in the world of 24-hour-a-day news: Whos the villain? Whos to blame? The devastation, the poverty, the need for help is news for only so long, then the story must move on if it is to stay alive. In the case of the tsunami the story is moving on to how aid is or isnt getting through, how much aid is being given and how various Western politicians didnt see the need to cut short their Christmas vacations to address the catastrophe while others, such as residents of Mount Currie, were quick to respond with what they could.
Television, newspapers and the Internet bring us images of the devastation but its still difficult to understand the scope. Its a paradox of the 21st century that the numbers and images need to be dramatic for us to pay attention 155,000 dead, $70 million donated by Canadians but some are so big they are beyond comprehension. The United States government, for instance, has pledged $350 million for tsunami relief, but Congress approved nearly $13 billion for aid related to the hurricanes that hit Florida and neighbouring states last summer. Globally, aid pledges for tsunami victims topped $3 billion Wednesday. In Sumatra, 1 million have been left homeless.
This sort of thought progression leads to questions about the Western worlds long-term commitment to the rest of the world. For much of the last two decades aid to developing nations was often viewed as inefficient and ineffective, so assistance dwindled. That thinking has changed somewhat in recent years, along with grudging recognition that debilitating schedules of debt repayment and protected Western markets inhibit development of Third World countries. But the magnitude of these issues and the level of discussion in government circles is so far removed from most of us as to be meaningless.
What makes these issues meaningful is bringing them down in scale, as Squamish Councillor Jeff Dawson has done with his challenge to communities to adopt a village affected by the tsunami.
Tomorrow at the conference centre people from Whistler, Pemberton and other parts of the world who are here to relax and get away from their day-to-day lives will take time to give something to those affected by the tsunami. It wont make the disaster any more comprehensible but it will help.