December 30th, 2004



The death tolls are a huge understatement compared to what happened. Yesterday, when the official death count for all the countries hit was still "only" around 70,000-80,000, NPR reported that Indonesia alone already estimated more than 500,000 injured. This week, and next week, will decide how many more people die from disease, in places where there's not enough clean water or food, dead telephone lines, and no airports.

Those of us who live in the US, collectively, fund the greatest logistical force to ever have existed on earth. Our government, through its military and other agencies, can move hundreds of thousands of people anywhere in the world, can supply them with food and fuel and water and medicine, can set up field hospitals and telecommunications, and all the other things south Asia badly needs now, on a greate scale than any other entity. I'm certainly not the only one here in the US feeling a lot of frustration about how much our government could do to help, and how little (comparitively) it actually is doing. I'm also embarassed - must we be known as the nation that's first to shoot, and last to help? Already several countries smaller and less wealthy than us have pledged and contributed more.

Yesterday, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont went public with this same frustration. He sent a letter to the White House and the State Department, with a specific list of suggestions: direct USAID and the State department to divert any resources necessary, deploy another carrier group to the area, use US transport planes to move supplies, call an international donor conference... read Leahy's letters.

Today (before 5pm eastern) or tomorrow, please:
  • Call Senator Leahy's office, 202-224-4242. Thank the Senator, express support, and encourage him to keep pressing. If you're in VT, you may want to call the Burlington office at 802-863-2525
  • Call the White House comment line, 202-456-1111. Urge them to act on Leahy's suggestions as quickly as possible.
  • Call your Senators and Representative, and suggest they add their voices.
  • Sign MoveOn's online petition
If you can spare some money, you probably already know there are many agencies taking donations to support the relief. I picked AmeriCares, based on friends' recommendations. But none of these agencies can respond the way the US government can. None of them can get a hundreds of transport planes to the region in under a week - or at all. They can collect medicine and maybe get it there, but they can't distribute it across thousands of miles of coastline, and keep track of it all so it gets used well. I believe our leverage on our government, as residents (and taxpayers) of the US, is the most effective aid we can give.

When you call the White House or legislators, you might also mention this: That money Leahy wants diverted from Iraq to south Asia, was budgeted for Iraq ostensibly to help us defeat terrorism. Al Qaida and it's allies that threaten us, are in those muslim south Asian countries, and they depend on finding support from the local populations. Do we want the masses of people in those countries to see the United States as the country that helped them when they needed it? Or as the country that could have helped them but didn't care enough, and let them suffer?

[Edit: I emailed DfA to suggest they post something about this on their very widely read blog, and it looks like they just did]