Monday, December 26, 2005

The Slow Pace of Reconstruction

One year ago, the world was coming to grips with the South Asian earthquake and tsunami. More than 270,000 people were killed. In the year since the disaster struck, billions of dollars were pledged by member nations of the UN, private charities and businesses, and yet many are still in desperate need.


Well, for one thing, monies that were supposed to flow through the UN have gone to overhead, and not to the needy nations affected by the tsunami. Go figure.

Some charities haven't done well either. Monies donated to some British charities has gone unspent.
Unwanted piles of clothes still sit rotting in the rain in a Thai fishing village; tin-roofed temporary shacks for refugees were too hot for anyone to live in; water tanks leaked; new boats were not seaworthy; and some medical supplies were out of date, but aid agencies insist that their successes outweigh the errors.

The DEC has spent £40 million on projects in both Indonesia and Sri Lanka, another £31 million in India, and £17 million has been split between four other countries, including Thailand. It plans to spend a further £190 million in the coming year, mainly building 20,000 new homes for 100,000 people. Experts say that constructing all the houses needed is the equivalent of building Glasgow and Birmingham from scratch in less than 12 months.

Ms Cohen said: “Progress has been impressive. A year after Hurricane Ivan in Florida, hundreds of people are still in temporary accommodation. It took the Japanese seven years to repair the damage done by the Kobe earthquake. The tsunami caused far greater destruction. The public’s expectations were raised after such a remarkable fund-raising operation, and that brings its own pressures for us. The last thing we want is the accusation that we didn’t spend this cash properly.”
And yet, South Asia is still without a tsunami warning system. Should this be a surprise? People are moving back into the areas devastated by the tsunami but governments are behind the curve in obtaining tsunami warning systems. The MSNBC report indicates that many of the systems being deployed do not provide sufficient lead-time should a tsunami occurs, do not provide daily data streams, or are not linked to other systems. The best system, made in the US, can't be made quickly enough because the facility that builds them was damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

As we see with the slow reconstruction in the US following Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma, critical infrastructure is often overlooked or overshadowed by other needs, and the consequences of that oversight will be unrealized until another disaster occurs. In South Asia, the tsunami detection system should take priority, and yet the countries can't agree on how a regional system would operate. So, a piecemeal approach is going forward with predictable mixed results. Those countries that field better systems will be better capable of warning their populations should another tsunami occur. A nation that deploys a less sophisticated system may end up costing lives.

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