A Tsunami of a Problem

Try to remember that time not so long ago when celebrities were flooding the airwaves, begging for help for victims of the tsunami.  Only the most heartless of Americans could have possibly turned down those impassioned appeals.

Now comes word from the BBC that half of the billions of dollars pledged by individuals, businesses, and governments around the globe for tsunami aid has not yet been spent — two years after the disaster.

It should come as no surprise, however, that a number of foreign governments have completely reneged on their promise to send aid.  Others have only given a small percentage of what they promised.

All told, some 6.7 billion dollars was pledged, but only 3.4 billion has been spent, according to the BBC report.  Among the biggest deadbeats — China, which pledged 301 million dollars to Sri Lanka, but has actually given only a paltry million…France, which promised 79 million, but has forked over just a little more than a million…and Spain, which pledged 60 million, but has actually donated less than a million.

With friends like these, the tsunami victims need no enemies.

The BBC reports that the European Commission owes 70 million; Britain, 12 million.  Meanwhile, the United States has donated about 38 percent of the dollars it promised.  The Red Cross, one of the most trusted relief agencies in existence, promised to build 50,000 homes, but has finished only about 8,000.  

The British Red Cross is defending its post-disaster performance, with spokesman Matthias Schmale telling the BBC:  “It is incredibly difficult…we said from the beginning, this is happening in very difficult circumstances.  We raised the money knowing it was difficult.  It will take time to spend this money in a responsible manner.”  

Schmale admitted that the speed at which houses are being built sounds like “slow progress.”  However, he noted that the tsunami also swept away identity papers and legal documents, creating a bureaucratic storm.  

However, an official with the United Nations, Miloon Kothari, sees the excuse-making as uncalled for:  “It should really not take this long to build permanent housing,” Kothari told the BBC.

Kothari added, “I do not accept the explanation that it is going to take four to five years, in some cases, seven.  I’m an architect, I know how long it takes to build a house.”

It was the day after Christmas in 2004 that an earthquake measuring 9.3 in magnitude sparked a tsunami that resulted in the loss of more than 200,000 lives.

Obviously, it can take a long period of time for those who survive such a disaster to recover.  But when promised money is inexcusably slow in coming…when pledges made are not kept…and when snail-paced bureaucracy is involved…recovery is not only hindered — it can actually grind to a halt.

If ever there was an effective argument against nationalized health care, the tsunami relief fiasco is it.  If it takes more than two years for a centralized authority to build a house, imagine how long it could take for you to find a surgeon to remove your gall bladder — if the federal government were in charge of the entire health care system.  

There are some things that the private sector is simply better equipped to handle.  Home building, food service, economy-building, and health care are just a few of them.