Jan 10, 2005
On January 6, world leaders met in Jakarta, Indonesia. Posing for lots of propaganda photos, they pledged nearly four billion dollars to aid tsunami victims in Asia. The U.S. contribution finally came to 350 million dollars; the Japanese, 500 million; Germany, 662 million; and Australia, 810 million dollars.
Germany and Britain proposed that the countries most affected by the tsunami could suspend payments on their foreign debt. Indonesia owes 132 billion dollars and Thailand 59 billion dollars, with the total debt relief of all the affected countries about four billion dollars. But the U.S. representatives balked, apparently believing the banks come first.
Whether eight billion or four billion dollars, it's not nearly enough, given the scope of the disaster. Nor does it begin to match what the rich countries could afford. The U.S. alone spends nearly four billion in Iraq every two weeks.
But no one should believe the tsunami victims will benefit from even these inadequate pledges. After past disasters, the rich countries made similar pledges – only to forget about paying up after the cameras were gone.
Exactly one year to the day before the tsunami struck in Asia, the city of Bam in Iran was hit by an earthquake. In this city of 120,000 there were 32,000 dead and 18,000 wounded, including many severely handicapped. Tens of thousands were homeless. The city itself was 85% destroyed. One billion dollars in aid was quickly promised.
A year later, the city is still in ruins, with tens of thousands still living in tents; others don't even have a tent. To date, only 17 million of the one billion dollars promised has been paid – that is, less than two% of what had been promised was ever delivered.