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Off topic: tsunami relief: interesting article
Thread poster: Aurélie DANIEL

Aurélie DANIEL  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:58
English to French
+ ...
Jan 6, 2005

This article comes from "Le Monde", it is in French, here I'll just give a quick, bad translation in English. For the French version, go to,1-0@2-3232,36-393038,0.html

I don't mean to start a controversy, I just think it's interesting.

Thanks to Médecins sans frontières (MSF)

The huge, worldwide solidarity around the terrible tragedy in Asia gives, for once, a positive view of globalisation. As if everybody in the global village felt concerned by the tragedies and the suffering caused by the tsunami.

It would be out-of-place to wonder what part the occidental tourists and Asia's strategic interests in the new world economy play in this flood of compassion, of which the daily victims of paludism and AIDS in Africa or the billion persons who still have no access to potable water have never benefited.

Now countries, NGOs, individuals, local authorities seem to compete in a donation race, spurred by the media who give the impression of feeding, and feeding on, a kind of collective exhibition of generosity hysteria.

In this context, MSF’s announcement that they no longer need donations for tsunami relief is quite controversial, and is widely disapproved by all the other NGOs. Yet MSF, 1999 Peace Nobel prize and involved in emergency humanitarian relief since 1971, is quite capable of analysing this type of situation.

Of course the needs of the disaster victims in terms of food, potable water, shelter and medicine are considerable. But, as every time too much help gets to a region where a disaster has been given too much media coverage, there is a triple threat: waste, misappropriation, and failing to address the problems of populations and territories less accessible, less visible, less interesting politically and economically for governments.

Past examples include Kurdistan in 1991, Somalia and Bosnia in 1992, Goma in 1994, hurricane Mitch in 1998 or Kosovo in 1998.

When MSF’s President says that the work that can be done on the spot is limited by the ONGs real operating capacities and by infrastructures (international aid is doomed to pile up in ports and airports without getting a chance of being distributed), it is a truth dictated by experience.

Too many agencies take advantage of the opportunity opened by massive media coverage aimed at accumulating funds. How will they use that money? Some of them are not even represented there! Chartering planes, filling them with food and medicines satisfies the donors, and gives work to national companies who can take advantage of the opportunity to conquer new markets – it is no coincidence that the members of the government (TN: French I guess) who rush to Asia repeat time after time the list of the generous partner companies. But this action has two major drawbacks: it underestimates the local reconstruction capacities, particularly strong in this part of the world, and it clogs a little more local structures, literally overwhelmed by the flood of international aid.

Let’s face the facts: the colossal sums collected will be used only partly for the Asian disaster victims. If they can be used to help the forgotten victims in other parts of the world, in Darfur, in Chechnya or elsewhere, if they are wisely stored up to be available in six-month time, when the victims will no longer interest anybody, just as it happens today in Iran, then the huge generosity manifestations received by the NGOs are a very good thing.

But the need for transparency is higher than ever. The competition between organisations to collect funds and to get a foothold on the “best” spots in terms of visibility and accessibility has already begun. Coordinating the help and controlling its allocation is essential in order to act efficiently. Normally the United Nations should play this role. But the different countries already compete to get a foothold in this country whose economical potential is coveted. But the NGOs defend fiercely their independence and their exclusive domains, while admitting that, in a case such as this one, the logistic capacity of the military does wonders when it comes to reopening roads and getting to the most isolated populations.

The indignation created by MSF’s decision resembles a historical precedent: exactly 20 years ago, the association had been put in the stocks by its fellow associations for having the courage to expose the misappropriation of international aid sent to Ethiopia, which was being used by Mengistu’s government to fund deadly forced population movements.

Of course, no such thing is happening today. But the mess and the improvisation over there, the overly intense calls for donations here are wasting the wonderful solidarity effort. Experience and knowledge only allow to act in the best interest of victims. That’s why a rational logic of dialogue and planning must prevail. In the well-known disaster’s trilogy prevention before/protection during/reconstruction after, the first two have already failed. Let’s not mess up the third one.

Sylvie Brunel, professor at Montpellier III University, is a former President of Action contre la Faim

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Seadeta Osmani  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:58
English to Croatian
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Well... Jan 6, 2005

Dear Aurelie,

If this text is aimed to be read by heads of states and big organizations, then it'has the right tone and right concerns. On the other hand, when I, having no power to change the world in a big way, read this text, it reminds me of a character from a Croatian novel, who was a journalist and criticized making war, making peace, defending a nation, renouncing a nation, in short, everything someone did, but did nothing himself.

We cannot all fly to wounded areas and give the money or the help ourselves. We can only trust those who say they'll do that for us. Otherwise, we would all say "Oh, how bad for people, but let's do nothing because we have no trust."

As for why so much fuss about this tragedy and not for others like wars or AIDS, I suppose that we all can dread the moment of nature hitting us so hard, wiping away all we had. People make war. People spread AIDS. People use other people. But people did not create tsunami...

Only a few of my thoughts...



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Aurélie DANIEL  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:58
English to French
+ ...
Yes, you're right! Jan 6, 2005

Dear Seadeta,

I don't think the article is advising to "do nothing", nor to to pack up and go there ourselves. It's just a different point of view, or maybe even an update, that I personally hadn't heard about this particular disaster until today, and I wanted to share it.

It's just another piece of information worth reflecting on.


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Marijke Singer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:58
Dutch to English
+ ...
Thanks for the translation! Jan 6, 2005

Dear Aurélie,

I think it makes a very valid point and as you say it is not saying we should do nothing. Just that we should act wisely. Seadeta is right in saying that the other disasters are spread by people but, even so, children who are currently dying of AIDS in Africa were not the instigators. Nor are the many people dying of malaria which is another problem in so-called third world countries that receives little attention since economically the "West" is not interested.

Here is another interesting article; this time about malaria:
"Every year, the mosquito-born malaria parasite kills up to 2 million people — most of them African children under the age of 5."

Maybe the media should start showing this on our TVs?

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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:58
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Nature is inevitable, but war is in theory man-made... Jan 7, 2005

I'm sure the victims feel the same despair at their homes being wiped out, but for some illogical reason we seem more willing to help when the disaster is 'natural' than when it is caused by human mismanagement or war. Let us hope some of the extra money will be sent on to projects where the need is just as great.

Bombed or flooded by a tsunami, if your home and family are wiped out, then you are desparate. But somehow, unconsciously we think war victims were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and we are not interested.

Last year in Denmark the Bible Society (which carries out social projects as well as distributing Bibles) was sued because they collected money and showed pictures of a particular school they were helping, then when they had enough money for that school, they moved on to help others - and the supporters felt 'cheated' because their money had gone to a different school!

I don't understand that attitude - I would be glad that even more people can be helped! But now the charities need to be careful and say they need resources, but that they decide for themselves how to use them. The Bible Society carefully states that the pictures are examples of the type of work they are doing, and that they support other projects where they can.

The moral is that we should give all the time, perhaps make a bank order to send a fixed amount each month, however small, to a reliable NGO. Then we can always put a little extra in the collecting box when it comes round.

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Lakshmi Iyer  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:58
Italian to English
+ ...
Many thanks Aurélie Jan 7, 2005

...for having taken the time to translate the article for us.
I was initially very surprised by MSF's decision, but have since come to appreciate their honesty.
As I understand it, the other NGOs are upset primarily because they're worried the MSF decision might dry up the flood of donations at a stage when they themselves haven't collected anything near enough their target amounts.
Secondly, they think MSF ought to have specified that it was targeting emergency aid only, and encouraged donors to keep giving to other NGOs involved in long-term reconstruction projects in the area.
Plus plain old jealousy, I suppose; Action contre la faim (about four million euros collected) has been particularly waspish about MSF (over 40 million euros collected). As long as they all manage to get people well, fed and housed quickly and with the least possible amount of waste....

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tsunami relief: interesting article

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