WORLD RELIEF DAY
The amount of disaster relief aid that has been donated is probably close to sufficient to meet the immediate needs of the people affected by the earthquake and tsunami that has devastated the area. The biggest problem at the moment is getting the aid where it needs to go. Transportation in the area is difficult at best, and in some areas, impossible. Having been involved in initial damage assessment and recovery efforts of an earthquake once before (a land one, and nothing as disasterous as this), I do have a pretty good idea of the sequence of events that needs to take place to ensure full recovery. I'll lay out the scenario, and issue a challenge for all blog-readers.
The living are being gathered together and fed, clothed, and sheltered. The majority of the aid being sent to the area right now is designed to ensure that there is food, clothing, and shelter for every survivor, and medical treatment for those that need it. The quantity either there or enroute is probably sufficient for the moment, and more will be forthcoming as aid and assistance keeps pouring in from donors around the world. The biggest problem at the moment is getting the aid to the people that need it over damaged roads, into damaged cities, and into remote areas cut off from civilization.
The most important step right now is to continue to search for survivors, and at the same time recover as many bodies of the dead as possible. Overlapping that effort and running concurrent with it is the need to begin cleaning up and removing the debris. Until the debris is removed, it's going to be impossible to know that every body has been found, and that every survivor has been located. Both are huge jobs requiring thousands of people and a long list of appropriate tools, equipment, and supplies.
The next stage is rebuilding. That means repairing or replacing the infrastructure (roads, railways, bridges, telephone and electric lines, water and sewer service). That takes both time and money, as well as equipment, supplies, tools and trained specialists. Rebuilding also means cleaning up the places that are still inhabitable, tearing down and replacing the ones that aren't, and rebuilding those structures that were destroyed, and moving people out of refugee camps back to their home villages.
The final stage is recovery. That means helping people get back to work supporting themselves, putting their lives and their families back together, and moving beyond the disaster. That's going to be harder, and take longer. Many of the poorest among those displaced made their lives fishing from small boats that are now destroyed. Insurance may replace a number of those boats, but how many of the poorest had insurance? The economic recovery of the area will be the hardest battle to fight.
My challenge to the blogosphere is this: what can we do as individuals to ensure the economic recovery of the survivors of this disaster? I see three things we can do:
- Help replace the tools and equipment these people need to support themselves using the skills they already have. In order to do that, we need to know how they supported themselves before the earthquake and tsunami destroyed their lives. We need to know how many fishermen are without boats, nets, and other equipment. How much does it cost to replace a boat? How much does it cost to replace nets? How many other things are needed to get a fisherman back earning his livelihood? What other forms of employment exist, and how much does it cost to equip someone to pick back up the pieces?
- Increase the diversity of skills and income opportunities. What else can be done in the area? How can it be accomplished? What kind of market exists for products these people can produce? We already know there's a big tourist industry in the area. How can the local people take a bigger role in meeting the demands of that industry?
- Education and training. The more one knows, the easier it is to find a niche to fill. What can we do, as Americans, as Australians, as Canadians or Germans, to better prepare these people for a better life? Who do we need to go through, who do we need to coordinate with, and how do we go about seeing that what we do is worthwhile and will actually make a difference?
All of this plays a major role in one other thing we should try to accomplish, another question we should try to answer: what can we do to keep the damage and destruction from being this extreme the next time this type of disaster happens? The geology of the area practically dictates that this is not a one-time event. there is historical evidence of massive tidal waves in the past, and a good indicator there will be more in the future. Wise investment in the area now will help reduce the death toll of any future disaster.