Sunday, October 30, 2005

Natural disaster politics - V

The earthquake in Kashmir is off the front page (or at least front screen) of the Guardian and Hindu - in the case of the latter, displaced by the Delhi bombs. This is unfortunate because until a few days ago, the funding situation was dire and it is difficult to believe that much has improved. As of 4 days ago, the UN appeal for $312 million was more than two-thirds away from its target. That appeal has now been scaled up to $550 million. So far, donor conferences have only pledged loose change for the relief effort - Oxfam has just published a league table putting in perspective the amounts of money that have been pledged. As you can see, only 4 countries have pledged their fair share (estimated on the basis of the size of their economy as a proportion of the OECD total) and a fifth is close to doing so.

In comparison, the tsunami appeal was 80% fulfilled within the first 10 days. We might speculate endlessly about why this happened [timing - a day after Christmas, the number of countries affected, the presence of western tourists in those affected areas - and conversely (a factor working against the earthquake appeal) the compassion fatigue that appears to be setting in, in the wake of the tsunami itself and hurricane Katrina]. Whatever the operative causes, the earthquake will be more difficult to deal with than the tsunami for at least a couple of additional reasons.

- My aunt, who works for ActionAid and has been overseeing relief work in Tamil Nadu for several months, says that tsunami recovery has been pretty remarkable, partly because although a vast length of coastline and many thousands of people were affected, the damage was never more than a few kilometres deep. This means that no place is very far away from a functional community that can assist with relief work. In the case of the earthquake this is simply not the case - an entire region has been devastated.

- The survivors of the earthquake have a much harsher climate to deal with. There is no way that people will be able to survive the harsh winter months without at least some rudimentary housing.

Although 79,000 people have been killed, we are looking at another 2-3 million lives being under threat. 'Threat' here means things like limbs having to be amputated - limbs that could have been saved if people had been evacuated more quickly - something that could have happened if more helicopters were available, for example - something that would have happened if more money was forthcoming.

Meanwhile, things are moving on the interstate diplomatic front: India and Pakistan have just concluded a landmark pact, enabling people on both sides to take part in relief work in the earthquake-affected areas. The LoC can now be crossed at 5 points in Kashmir for this purpose, and the parameters and procedures for doing so will be the same as those agreed upon for the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service. What is interesting about this is that what appears to have been an initial, off the cuff, emotional remark by Musharraf ('let us make the LoC irrelevant') has effectively forced the foreign policy bureaucracy on both sides to thrash out the modalities of doing so (albeit in restricted and carefully circumscribed manner) at the risk of being seen to be heartless, I suppose. Now, after much rhetoric and 23 days later, we have an agreement. Because it is meant to cover the phases of relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction, it can be expected to last a few years.

Here are some more specific comparative links on the possible impacts of natural disasters on conflict:

- Indonesia: Earlier this week, the Guardian carried a highly optimistic report on the state of relations between the Indonesian government and the GAM rebels in Banda Aceh. It seems that the halfway point has been reached in the decommisioning of GAM weapons and the withdrawal of the Indonesian military. Although a number of factors are responsible for the improved situation, it is certainly the case that tsunami-induced destruction and the imperatives of reconstruction have focused the minds of parties on both sides in the direction of cooperation and conflict resolution.

- Sri Lanka: Philip Gourevitch's piece on Sri Lanka after the tsunami, in the August 2005 issue of the New Yorker, gives less cause for optimism. The sub-heading says it all: 'after the tsunami, the fighting continues'.

- Greece/Turkey: verbalprivilege provides an excellent account of the impact of the August 1999 earthquake in Izmir (Turkey) and the September 1999 earthquake in Athens on relations between those two countries.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?