It only took a few horrifying minutes recently. Those few minutes cost thousands of unsuspecting people their lives. 0ver 123,000 of them – about one-third of them children - perished in that deadly wall of rushing water. It was caused by an undersea quake that was about strength 9 on the Richter scale – but the death toll could be much higher as shortages of drinking water, as well as the risk of disease now threatens most of the survivors.
That is already more than double the number of U.S. military personnel who died in various Asian cataclysms about 40 years earlier. But man-made disasters like the war in Vietnam cannot compare to natural disasters. Man-made disasters, in spite of their terrible consequences, seem almost docile and sane when compared to the natural variety. To put it in another way, the violence of war may be shocking, but not unexpected by those concerned. The violence of nature is alarming, precisely because it is so unforeseen and so utterly random.
When a soldier is pinned down in a battle by enemy fire, he knows he may not see another sunrise. But a tourist, or visitor, relaxing on a sandy beach does have no doubt that he will see that evening’s sunset. Chance at times foils expectations and delivers utterly inconceivable outcomes.
Whenever epic disasters happen, nature seems undisturbed by both the laws of probability and by our human sense of fair play. Epic disasters just don’t seem right, but they happen anyway. And whenever they do, it feels as though we humans are engaged in a kind of cosmic dodge ball – a "game" in which the balls are invisible to us until they strike. The object of the game, of course, is to avoid getting hit. But since the balls are invisible, we are never sure whether we should be weaving to the right or the left to avoid them.
Sometimes nature gives a warning. A volcano may rumble before it erupts – although that didn’t save Pompeii. Mount St. Helen didn’t much rumble and people died. Lava streams, floods, mudslides and forest fires take their toll – but are usually not unexpected. But the people around the epicenter of northern Indonesia did not perceive any rumble. The tidal wave hit and devastated huge coastal areas in that part of the world around Sumatra.
Efforts of unprecedented magnitude are already underway to aid the survivors. Most countries have made generous pledges that already total about one Billion Dollars. Japan for example pledged $500 Million, USA $350 Million, Britain $95 Million, Canada $80 million, Sweden $75 million and even Ontario has donated $5 Million to the Canadian Red Cross and the re-activated Ontario Disaster Relief Fund.
On January 8th there will be a national memorial held in Ottawa for all those lost in this tragedy. Until then, all Canadian flags on federal buildings will be lowered to half-mast.
To encourage even further monetary contributions, the government will allow Canadians to claim charitable tax deductions of contributions made up until January 11th, on their 2004 tax return.
The Government of Canada has informed the UN that it is making a significant portion of its national stockpile of emergency supplies available. The non-medical supplies such a flashlights and blankets are part of Canada’s overall response.
Canadians who with good reason believe that their Canadian friends or relatives are in the affected area can contact Foreign Affairs Canada’s Emergency Operations Centre at 1-800-606-5499, or visit the Foreign Affairs website at www.fac.gc.ca
Ontarians wishing to make a contribution to the Canadian Red Cross can call 1-800-418-1111, or donate online at www.redcross.ca
Another organization contributing with major efforts is the ‘SOS Kinderdorf e.V.’ with headquarters in Germany and branches all over the world. Since most of the "Kinderdörfer" (SOS Children’s Villages) are located in the interior of the devastated area and not directly involved, they immediately launched measures to aid the victims with fresh drinking water, food staples and medical supplies.
German contact: www.sos-kinderdorf.de/portal/kanada,,,,,markierung+Kanada.html
Canadian contact: www.soschildrensvillages.ca - Mailing address: SOS Children’s Village, 244 Rideau St. Suite 200, Ottawa, ON K1N 5Y3 Attn.: Dave Greiner. His e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org and you can phone him at 613-232-3309 - Toll-free: 1-800-767-5111.
The focus of SOS Children’s Villages’ relief effort for disaster victims is on India and Sri Lanka. Thousands of children and homeless families have found refuge in emergency camps on the east coast of India. They also help families in hardly accessible areas along the east coast of Sri Lanka to rebuild their livelihood and provide people in the south of the island state with food and medical care. www.sos-childrensvillages.org
Most of the churches, clubs and many other organizations are urging their members to contribute to the various funds that are set up to help the disaster victims in Asia. This has now become a global effort and in Canada contributions to ‘SAVE THE CHILDREN CANADA’ for example, are matched dollar for dollar by the federal government. r.k.a.
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