a boy drinks a bag of clean water in Chennai, capital of the tsunami-stricken state of Tamil Nadu, south India Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2004 [excerpt of caption from AP]
Of course we want to do something, but how?
Along with surely at least scores of his other friends, relatives or colleagues, this morning I received this email from our good friend Sumit, who fortunately lives safely in Bangalore with his wife Seema, miles from the violence on the southeast coast of India.
Hi,The list of emergency items is painful to read, but I think his words tell us even more about how we should all think of our responsibilities when disasters strike, or at least all of us who are not able to offer skilled help on the scene.
Let us wish your family and you a very happy and healthy New Year.
By now you would have all heard about the terrible natural disaster that struck Southern coastal India, Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka. The devastation is immense. The loss of life and damage to property is shocking. The thousands who have been affected by this tragedy need any help they can get. There are many ways in which one can help.
Seema and I are collecting the following items in Bangalore to send it to Chennai tomorrow to the Banyan (an NGO) in Chennai, which is arranging distribution at the affected areas. The items are:
1. Blankets and Sheet
2. Face Masks
3. Provisions: Daal (Lentils), Rice, Sugar
4. Electral, Glucose
6. Clothes: Children and Adult. Old and New.
We are collecting at the basement in our house:
[here he gives their address and telphone number in Bangalore]
Those interested in helping may also contact the following people in Chennai (Madras).
Ashok from The Banyan: 91-44-26530504 email@example.com
Sulek and Pravin from DBA: 91-44-26630063 firstname.lastname@example.org
Exnora is another organization that has helped with relief measures in the past. Details about their organization can be found at:
For those outside of Tamilnadu and India, the Prime Minister's relief fund is a reliable (relatively free of bureaucratic hassles) organization that has appealed for funds. Here are 2 websites, one about the Fund and the other with a form through which you can make donations.
Please donate whatever you can. Every bit counts.
Please forward this request to anyone you know. We need to do whatever we can.
Seema & Sumit
Realistically however most people outside of the countries immediately affected by this one will have to be satisfied with the less dramatic gesture of contributions in money rather than kind.
Since Sumit's suggestions only include agencies able to offer help on the sub-continent, here is a list of relief agencies assembled by the NYTimes.
My own preference will probably be Doctors Without Borders, because of my faith in and admiration for their extraordinary importance, commitment and effectiveness. Alright, I'm also totally dazzled by their heroism.
I've just checked their normal website, where I was given the very happy message, "Doctors Without Borders web site is experiencing very heavy traffic." The page then gives a secure link where donations can be made and a separate link where people can secure information about volunteering services.
Their traffic volume seems to suggest that enormous numbers of people are being very generous and perhaps also that the other NGO's offering tsunami relief are being deluged with contributions as well.
I will end this long post with an large excerpt from one of several emails I've received from a New York friend who had been on holiday in Phuket with a mutual friend of ours until that fateful morning. They were having breakfast on the beach at 8:30 when Donald felt something he only later realized was the earthquake itself. They both left for the airport at 9:30 when the sea was quite calm. Minutes later the wave hit. Only when they ran into the first survivors at the airport a little later did they learn what had happened.
Donald wrote this note from Thailand, and I received it late last night:
James, the post-wave problems will be severe, as you can imagine. Fortunately, Thailand has extremely good infrastructure for addressing things like this, government corruption notwithstanding. Communications here are good, lots of airports, roads, etc. So getting things down to the South where they are needed will be fairly easy, although once down there, there are a zillion little islands.Now we all have to try to save the survivors.
The impact of this is most easily described to Americans this way. "These people were poor TO BEGIN WITH". If they lost family members, then they lost everything, because for most people in this region, family is all they have. (Americans tend to exoticize things like the intensity of Asian kin relations, but the reality is that intense kinship is a good way to sustain a network that mitigates the dire poverty.)
The impact is also horrible in terms of employment and living. Whether you are a tourist or a local, if you were in Phuket, you were there because of tourism. If you weren't a tourist, then working for tourists was your job. So with the tourism trashed by a tidal wave, probably more than a million Thai survivors have just lost their employment, and are now job less, and possibly homeless, grieving for dead relatives and a dashed future.
Now, add to that the imminent public health disaster created by the loss of sanitation, piles of corpses etc. It is like you already were in hell, and now it's going to get worse right before your eyes.
In terms of public consciousness, Thai people everywhere are mortified. And since one of the kings grandchildren died, it gives a personal context that everyone can connect with. (The royal family is very revered here). The press here is talking about nothing but the tidal wave, and that probably won't change for a while. It has totally eclipsed coverage of the national election! Even the very arrogant and dictatorial prime minister knows better than to shame himself by appearing to capitalize on this.
I am actually more concerned about Sri Lanka. Though I've never been there, I know it is a much poorer country than Thailand. Like I said, Thailand has some very decent infrastructure.
I am rambling, but I appreciate the opportunity to talk about this.
Above all, perhaps for a change, I'm thinking of Americans, as an American, not a New Yorker. If the Red Cross estimate of at least 100,000 deaths proves correct, more than 33 times as many people died this past Sunday as did on September 11. Unlike the aftermath of September 11, in Asia today millions of children and adults remain in serious danger because of disease, or from loss of food, shelter or livelihood. We have to rise to this challenge or lose our self-respect as a people.
[image from AP Photo/Xinhua, by An Zhiping]