Agency Warns of Social Tsunami in South Asia

As world leaders meet today in Indonesia’s capital to try to deal with Asia's tsunami crisis and the biggest humanitarian relief operation since World War II, an agency of the churches in the UK and Ireland is calling on the international community to make a long-term commitment to the region.

“Christian Aid’s long experience in dealing with disasters, both natural and man-made, shows that the recovery may take at least three years,” said Andrew Pendleton, Christian Aid’s senior policy officer. “A long-term commitment is required from the international community to ensure that communities hardest hit by disaster receive proper shelter and sustainable livelihoods.”

Pendleton further stated, “People in the region will experience a ‘social tsunami’ if we do not act now. Millions of people in the countries affected will remain trapped in poverty for years to come unless the aid is faster and better. The social tsunami following disasters results in social dislocation and accelerating rates of poverty create surges in crime, disease and domestic violence.”

Too often, the commitment to help fades as the media spotlight moves on, Christian Aid reported. “Money pledged by governments fails to materialize and promises for rehabilitation aid are not kept.”

As an example, Pendleton mentioned the international relief efforts set in motion in Dec. 2003 after the city of Bam in southern Iran was devastated by a 6.6 magnitude earthquake, which led to the destruction of 70 percent of the city and the death of approximately 41,000 people.

“Money pledged to the Bam earthquake has not been sent,” Pendleton noted. “We saw the same phenomena after the floods in Mozambique. We must also ensure that governments do not divert money from ongoing development projects to emergencies.”

Working with local organizations in the region, Christian Aid says it has seen first-hand the vital role they play in the emergencies. “It is crucial that community-based organizations are included in discussions about coordination and delivery of aid,” the agency reported.

“In the longer-term, local organizations must continue to be involved,” Pendleton exhorted. “Communities can only recover properly if they are directly involved in the rehabilitation programs.”

Similar comments have also been made by World Relief, which stated on Tuesday, “Recovery from a disaster, especially the size and scale of this most recent one, is not measured in months, but in years.”

“The initial inflow of donations has been phenomenal, yet sustained support is needed once the media coverage dies down and the rest of the world goes on with everyday life,” it reported.

World Relief is one of several agencies currently setting the groundwork for multi-year presence in regions hit by last week’s quake-tsunami devastation.