International alert series: The BIG Issues
Beyond Tsunami - CARE Australia response
Dr Robert Glasser, CEO, CARE Australia
1. CAREís Response to the Tsunami
- We responded quickly. We were the first to announce our appeal and to organise major relief supplies from Australia to Indonesia.
- Able to move fast because of long-standing presence in these countries: 800 staff in Indonesia. Many decades presence there, Sri Lanka and India.
- Raised over $40 million from the public; implemented activity in all countries affected.
- Much accomplished: Prevented disease outbreak; fed 200,000 in Aceh alone.
- Transition from emergency relief to reconstruction/development underway: 6,500 shelters in Sri Lanka, 400 engines for boats, constructed wells, toilets, school supplies, psycho-social counselling, etc. Will build 8,000 homes in Aceh, thousands more in India, Sri Lanka in coming months.
- Building standards (earthquake resistance), particularly given places are earthquake-prone
- Timber: 4-8 million cubic metres of sawn timber required to re-build Aceh (= over 400,000 hectares of forest) only 10% of which could be derived from legal and sustainable harvesting in Indonesia (according to WWF)
- Conflict environment: Need to get it right so we do not exacerbate conflict.
2. What can we expect in future? Trends in Humanitarian Emergencies
Although the tsunami is once in a century event, there is strong reason to believe that we will see many more highly destructive natural disasters in future. The evidence suggests this:
- Weather-related disasters rose from an average of 200 in 1993-1997 to 331 per year in 1998-2002. Keep in mind that 85% of people exposed to earthquakes, tropical cyclones, floods and droughts live in developing countries (UNDP).
- Each year over the last decade, the total number of people affected by natural disasters has doubled.
Climate change may be one cause of this:
- CO2 levels are now far above any level in the past hundreds of thousands of years. Observed global warming is about 0.7degrees C. In previous epics global temperatures just over 2 degrees warmer than today, resulted in sea level 25 metres higher: This would submerge some islands, much of Bangladesh, the Nile Delta, etc.
- Among other things, scientists believe that the warming will lead to significant increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events.
But there are other worrying humanitarian disasters looming: Avian Influenza
- World Health Organisation (WHO) has recently declared that the world
is now closer to another influenza pandemic than at any time since 1968.
There were three influenza pandemics in the twentieth century: in 1918, 1957, and 1968. The 1918 outbreak is considered the most deadly disease event in human history. It killed more than 40 million people, over four times the number killed on all fronts during World War I.
- Avian influenza-- if it acquires the ability to be transmitted efficiently from human to human-- could have an impact on developing countries that dwarfs the economic and social impact of the recent Asian Financial Crisis and cause more deaths globally in just weeks than HIV-AIDs has caused in the past two years. There would be crippling shortages of workers, the collapse of health care and other essential services. Like the 1918 pandemic: this one could target people in the prime of their lives.
- Wealthy countries governments are quietly preparing for the pandemic by stockpiling drugs and putting in place emergency plans that should greatly limit the damage. But for much of the developing world these costly items are simply not an option; health infrastructure is weak and medicines are in short supply.
3. Beyond Tsunami: Will the public respond as generously next time?
- The evidence suggests that we can expect many more humanitarian emergencies in future, but how will we respond to them? Without public support our responses will be impossible.
- Yet why is it that the public responds so generously to some humanitarian disasters, but not to others? Darfur is a case in point.
- A recent study sponsored by the Fritz Institute and the Reuters Foundation provides some answers. Journalists interviewed for the study observed that disasters are more likely to receive press coverage if they involve a high death toll, affect large numbers of children, provide compelling visuals or eyewitness accounts, and have broader foreign policy implications.
- The Dafur crisis meets some, but not all of these criteria.
Thousands have already perished and without rapid humanitarian relief
many tens of thousands more will perish with the onset of the wet season
in a few weeks time. Women and children comprise 80% of the displaced
population in many locations in Dafur.
However, the crisis in the Sudan does not have significant foreign policy implications for Australia or other Western countries. Furthermore, it is unfolding along Sudanís remote and inaccessible 800 kilometer-long border with Chad and is simply beyond the reach of most media. With the displaced people and refugees distributed over such a vast area, the crisis has thus far not produced the compelling photo opportunities that have existed in some other crises.
In addition, it is possible that the mediaís lack of interest more generally reflects a growing fatigue among the public for bad news from Africa. People may simply have become inured to depressing images from African countries which seem forever trapped in a cycle of war and poverty.
- CARE Australia has responded quickly and effectively to the Tsunami
- We can expect more natural disasters in future: the number and severity of natural disasters are increasing
- For many emergencies it will be extremely difficult to mobilise public support
- This is the key challenge for aid community: We must raise awareness in order to mobilise the support that is necessary to save lives.