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Massive Waves of Relief

Massive Waves of ReliefInthe wake of the massive tsunamis that killed over 150,000 peopleand left millions displaced, international relief efforts continueto face challenges, say Tufts experts.Medford/Somerville,Mass.

Boston [01.03.05] With more than 150,000 dead and millions displaced,international aid groups are facing what may be the largest reliefeffort in history, following the deadly earthquake and resultanttsunamis that slammed into a dozen countries bordering the IndianOcean last week. Despite the scale of the disaster, Tufts expertssay the effort has gone relatively smoothly so far. But many expectthe cost of the recovery – like the death toll in the region– to continue to rise.

"We shouldnot expect great precision in [the total death toll]. There hasbeen no great accurate count of these people while they were living"and one is not likely since their deaths, WilliamMoomaw, professor of international environmental policy inthe Fletcher School,told The Boston Globe.

For thosewho survived the tsunamis – millions of whom have had theirhomes destroyed and face the threat of wide-scale disease outbreaks– relief efforts have been coordinated on a global scalewith relative speed and efficiency, one Tufts expert says.

"Giventhe geographic scale, and that it happened at a time when loadsof people were on vacation, I think it's coming together extremelywell," PeterWalker, director of the FeinsteinInternational Famine Center at Tufts, told The ChristianScience Monitor. "That's because we've developed internationalstandards on what people should expect - how much water, food,shelter."

Since Dec.26, millions of dollars have been raised both by internationalaid organizations like UNICEF and the Red Cross and Internet-drivendonations by individuals via Amazon or Google.

“Theflow of cash is not really the problem. The problem is how tospend it effectively,” Walker told the National Public Radioprogram Marketplace.

Need, he says,will dictate the allocation of funds, but given the wide swathof destruction, it may be hard early on to determine where moneyis needed the most.

“Theproblem is how do you measure that, particularly in the firstfew days?” Walker told Marketplace. “Youknow, there is chaos, and the people who would do that sort ofmeasuring are themselves caught up in a disaster.”

Even afterthe initial relief efforts are carried out, the region faces avery long road to recovery.

"We tendto forget what's going on outside the spotlight," Walkertold The Christian Science Monitor. "That will needthe attention of governments and the international community fora long time to come."

The UnitedStates was criticized earlier in the week for President GeorgeW. Bush’s public silence on the disaster and a perceivedstinginess in initial promises of aid. One Tufts graduate saysthe criticism was somewhat merited.

“Whenyou look at everything we do in the world, our government, humanitarianand disaster aid, about $2 billion last year, more than doublethat amount in private and business giving, we give far more thanany other country,” Leslie H. Gelb, president emeritus ofthe Council on Foreign Relations and a Tufts graduate, told CNN.“On a proportional basis we don't, and we get criticizedfor that. But the total effort is enormous. And we give in lotsof other ways, too.”

Gelb was criticalof Bush’s delayed response to the tragedy, given the scaleof the destruction involved.

“Allhe had to do was stop shoveling the sage brush and go before thecameras and say what he said at the end of his statement [Dec.29], that the United States will be there for disasters, thatwe care about the human race,” Gelb told CNN. “Hecould have said that right out of the barrel. He didn't. And becausehe didn't, it looked like we were pulling teeth. That the wholeworld had to apply pressure on him.”

A public expressionof solidarity and sympathy is important, Gelb contended.

"Whenthat many human beings die – at the hands of terroristsor nature – you've got to show that this matters to you,that you care," he told The Washington Post.

The U.S. hassince come forward to promise $350 million in contributions andto announce it will coordinate a worldwide relief effort comprisingmonetary, military and humanitarian aid.

An earlierstatement could have boosted the status of the U.S. in the eyesof foreign nations, Gelb – a former official in the StateDepartment and Department of Defense – told MSNBC.

“Thiswas an opportunity to exercise real humanitarian and moral leadershipat a time when we really need it because our standing in the world,and particularly in the Muslim world, is so bad,” he said.“President Bush is a good war leader, but he has got tolearn to be a good humanitarian and diplomatic leader as well.And this is just that kind of opportunity.”









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