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Thursday, January 06, 2005

The World Unites

Global Tsunami Relief Efforts

As a person who loves travel and who's planning to see more of the world, the tsunami disaster in Asia has truly shocked me on a personal level. The death toll presently stands at around 150,000 and is sure to rise much higher due to poor sanitation, hampered relief efforts and infectious diseases. It is almost unfathomable how a single event, an earthquake that only lasted a few seconds, can literally change the face of the earth and cause unmentionable suffering to millions of people.

It's strange, but every time I look at a travel show now, particularly when I see beautiful beaches and palm trees, images that remind me of these paradises in the Indian Ocean before the disaster struck, I get a twinge in my heart and I am reminded of all those horrible pictures of devastation and death, and of the suffering and upheaval that's going to continue for many months.

Other pictures have surfaced, of tourists continuing to enjoy themselves in Thailand, even in the face of the recent catastrophe. Although I personally cannot imagine how I would be able to enjoy a vacation in this area, considering that thousands of people just perished a short distance away, it is true that some of these countries, in particular Thailand, depend on tourism as one of their main sources of national revenue.

So I am torn as to whether to condemn these vacationers and say, how can you go there and enjoy yourself in this paradise that has turned into a mass grave for tens and thousands of people. On the other hand, the economies of these developing countries have already been hard hit, and in addition to international donations, they can probably use every tourist dollar they can get.

Toronto, the city I live in, had a similar experience, on a much smaller scale during the SARS outbreak of 2003. Even though only about 50 people in total died from SARS, Toronto's restaurants, hotels and entertainment venues were tremendously affected by the absence of tourists that ensued in the wake of SARS. Local authorities tried to put together all sorts of promotional campaigns and special discounts to bring the tourists back. So I can imagine that some of these Asian countries are going through exactly the same thing, simply on a hugely larger scale.

Governments and citizens around the world have obviously been deeply emotionally affected and have tried to do what they can to help. For now, financial donations seem to be the most effective way for helping the local populations in the affected countries.

Let me bring you here a summary of reputable organizations that you can consider donating to:

In Canada
www.msf.ca (Doctors Without Borders)

In the United States
. American Red Cross (via Amazon)
. American Jewish World Service
. BAPS Care International
. Direct Relief International
. Habitat for Humanity International
. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent
. Islamic Relief Worldwide
. Network for Good (with a listing of additional relief organizations)
. Oxfam International (US page)
. Save the Children
. UNICEF (US page)
. World Food Programme (UN)
. World Vision

Events like these make waves around the whole world. I think we have all been touched by the plight of humans living thousands of kilometers away from us. Certainly in Toronto, this multicultural microcosm that represents the world, many other smaller organizations, police and fire departments have started fundraising drives for the tsunami-affected areas. This has certainly been an event that proved that people all around the world care.

An event like this teaches us that there are definitely things beyond our control and despite our daily gripes and complaints, we should be grateful for what we have. My heart and best wishes go out to the people in the affected areas.

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