by Revd. BJ Alexander
The overwhelming response for the continuing Tsunami relief by the generous public world-wide is a positive reflection of human solidarity and good-will.
The sad part of it all, however, is that - even in such a catastrophe - this urgent relief fails to reach the desperate survivors. Be it clean drinking water, or be it much needed money; or be it powdered milk for babies or life-saving medicines...In the process of changing hands, things seem to disappear into thin air! Many blame the politics of aid, while the real culprit has to be the inward human condition called greed even in the midst of grief.
Along with inspirational stories of selfless heroism, there is, sadly, room for inhumane corruption. Financial accountability and transparency - these words have somehow lost their currency. If direct relief were not to come through the public, the local NGOs, the INGOs and various charitable organisations, the survivors would have experienced unimaginable worse conditions.
In Sri Lanka, international aid that is channelled through the Government is not reaching the survivors in general and particularly in the Tamil areas.
I have heard it again and again from aid workers in Batticaloa: 'What is happening', they ask, 'to all the millions of international aid?' The answer is a unanimous open secret. I have personally made this fact known among various UK church-based organisations. When public money is donated, one must see that it reaches the needy. That is a moral obligation.
The long view
The TV cameras, as usual, have already turned their attention to the next big story. The workers on the ground quite rightly are now thinking in terms of long term rehabilitation and rehousing, etc. The international community has to be held responsible for their generous verbal pledges, so that none of it fizzles out as empty sound-bites, but will actually materialise on the ground as months turn into years.
In displaced people's camps in Batticaloa town, and elsewhere in the affected villages, I was beginning to hear the sad news of suicides, particularly among the young. Quite understandably, among other illnesses, there are severe cases of depression and mental disorders. I was told of grieving fathers pretending to make cell phone calls to their families. Of course, these families have perished. Some are refusing to eat. The need for trained trauma counsellors, psychiatrists and child psychologists is urgent. Of course, faith-based presence is also required...while I hasten to add, that independent faith groups should not use this opportunity, as suspected by some, as a covert operation for any conversions! That would be cheap and immoral to any faith. Yet, the need for spiritual healing and comfort must not be underestimated.
So the long term aid one would agree, is not just hard cash alone; although sending that directly to the NorthEast in particular does make a world of difference.
People here need much encouragement and moral support. The aid workers have to constantly be appreciated, encouraged and congratulated for all their hard work. I have met workers in various sectors who are working over 12 hours per day seven days a week. The Batticaloa Hospital staff whom I met personally are already over-worked in extremely stressful conditions. The young people in these areas have worked very hard in the clearing up. The clergy, temples, mosques and churches have revealed their compassionate presence discreetly in the Batticaloa district. All these people are true un-sung heroes.
There is hope among people that we can rebuild not only our lives, but also our towns and villages. The Tsuanmi has not managed to rob the survivor's dignity. It must also be said, that the survivors have not lost their sense of humour.
Posted January 27, 2005