EDITORIAL

Responding to the Tragedy in the Indian Ocean

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Catastrophic. This is the only way to describe the deaths, injuries, disease and destruction resulting from the terrible earthquake and subsequent tsunamis in the Indian Ocean. Many communities have been obliterated. In an outpouring of grief and solidarity, people around the world are donating with a passionate desire to help in some small way.

No alarm raised.The Pacific Ocean has a sophisticated tsunami warning system, yet there is none in the world’s most populated region. However Asia does have telephones and a mass communication system! There was certainly no time to warn the people of Aceh. But both Sri Lanka and the Indian mainland had nearly two hours. Why did people die in East Africa ten or eleven hours after the quake? This neglect is a collective failure of all regional governments.

Miserly and uncaring. Initial amounts pledged by governments — especially the United States — were quite rightly lampooned as stingy. Public outrage in the U.S. and Europe was loud and concentrated. This shaming process led to pledges being increased tenfold by the U.S and opened the wallets of other wealthy governments.

Grassroots control is key. Clearly the need for speedy aid is urgent. But the question of who controls it and how it is distributed cannot be ignored. Notoriously corrupt regional governments can’t be trusted to get supplies to all that need them, and the U.S. and Australia will work with their own imperialist interests in mind. Two of the worst affected regions —Aceh and the northern part of Sri Lanka called Tamil Eelam by its inhabitants — are sites of long-running national liberation struggles.  The people of Aceh have lived under martial law for the past two years and, despite the tragedy, the Indonesian military is continuing its efforts to wipe out the Free Aceh Movement. In Tamil Eelam, community leaders are concerned that aid will be used by the central government as a political weapon.

How to donate. We urge donations to funds controlled by grassroots community organisations or to trade union movement funds. The Indonesian forestry workers union has asked for funds for the devastated area of Aceh and North Sumatra. To give to this appeal go to www.labourstart.org/docs/en/000090.html. In Australia, you can also donate through the ACTU’s aid arm, APHEDA www.apheda.org.au. (1800-888-674)

Open the borders. Under cover of the disaster, the callous Australian government cynically deported Afghani refugees, Ali and Roqia Bakhtiyari and their six children to Pakistan by charter flight in the middle of the night. The same fate potentially awaits hundreds of Sri Lankan refugees — most of them Tamils. The outrageous treatment of the Bakhtiyaris must not be repeated. The disaster is so huge that permanent resettlement may be the only solution for some communities. The granting of refuge and of citizenship rights would help greatly, and the Howard Government could easily afford it — by getting out of Iraq and redeploying the troops for the relief effort.

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