What if you lived in a country which is one of America's staunchest allies, whom some visitors often think of as our 51st state because so many things there resemble what we have here in the U.S. -- The Philippines? What if you were now in American Samoa? Or Indonesia, where our president, Barack Obama, spent some critical years of his childhood, attended local schools and has an Indonesian half-sister? What if all three places experienced massive natural disasters with 2 weeks of each other -- a typhoon, multiple earthquakes and a tsunami?
People in these places could be forgiven for uttering the words "The New New Orleans" -- no one or, surely, not enough, people and governments seem to care. While people in Manila try to cope -- up to 3 million were affected, 800,000 of whom are in emergency temporary shelters and the rest are living in homes still filled with or damaged by water while becoming increasingly sick from water-borne disease -- the Government of the Philippines pleads for massive international aid. The 900,000 residents of Padang, Indonesia, are hesitant to go back to what homes are still standing as massive aftershocks occur frequently; so, too, are the Samoans, where only yesterday another 7+ aftershock occurred along with yet another tsunami warning.
"How to Help?" is a valid question and many of us wonder -- as we do here in California when wildfires hit us and destroy homes which had defied nature in their very placement atop foliage-covered hillsides -- just what throwing relief workers and massive amounts of money at a problem likely to recur will do to benefit us or them.
In the end, however, these are our neighbors and certainly friends. The trillions of dollars we spend on wars to "preserve civilization and our national security," which wind up enriching a very few with no discernible positive outcome, could well be redirected towards things which really do affect us all -- our continued ability to inhabit a planet whose ecosystems are telling us they are overstressed and about to die.
The outpouring of compassion from tens of millions of people who gave to humanitarian organizations after the 2004 Asia tsunami and the millions of private donors to relief efforts after our own hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike, tell us that the American Heart is there even if the public policy and government support often is not.
The Philippines needs massive medical assistance in the form of appropriate supplies which private relief groups can well handle if they had the funds and/or materiel. Other governments, starting with the U.S., can redouble efforts to send in shelter materials, water purification equipment, thousands of electric generators, rescue helicopters and flat bottom boats. Transport companies can provide logistical support by air and sea. When things dry out, clinics and schools need to be rehabilitated and restocked so people can benefit from using them.
In Samoa and American Samoa, shelter and rebuilding quake and tsunami-damaged buildings along with purifying water resources is critically needed.
In Indonesia, a vast portion of Sumatra near Padang has been destroyed or crippled by the massive tremors. Better, safer homes need to be reconstructed; hospitals and schools rebuilt; economic activity restarted with small "livelihood" loans and grants, and infrastructure like roads and bridges needs to be replaced.
But, is this our problem? What about the 5 million flooded-out people now in India's Andhra Pradesh State? They are if you consider yourself a global citizen and have the wisdom to see that Climate Change has caused these particular disasters. Of course, people and the governments they choose or must tolerate are primarily responsible in each locality but the rest of us are inevitably affected by others' suffering, others' cries for help and, hopefully, others' advancement and success.