Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Some Thoughts on Disaster Relief

Today I donated $50 to Unicef to help out with disaster relief in the Pakistani earthquake. (Yes, it's a UN agency, but it's one of the more trustworthy ones.) No, it's not much, but it's what I can afford at the moment, and every little bit helps.

Looking at how the federal government has so far responded to the earthquake, it's pretty clear that the governing culture still hasn't quite got a grasp on how to handle disaster relief:

Canada's initial pledge of $300,000 was criticized as paltry, but Carroll said the government responded swiftly to mobilize sufficient funds as a part of the initial response to the disaster.

"The first thing to do .. was to make money available on the ground quickly and then to make a part of the money, as the prime minister did, be part of (a needs) assessment," Carroll said.

"However much we may emotionally react, we have to react effectively. The first thing to do is get an assessment, put the money in with the United Nations and others, and then as (the assessment) comes back to you, then step forward with a large amount, as we did."

Fine. You spend three hundred grand on a needs assessment for the region. That's not a donation, because the money isn't going to the frontline for relief. Instead, we should think of that amount as gathering intelligence in preparation for more aid to follow.

I'd suggest that this time it's the press, and not the government, who misrepresented this initial assessment as an aid donation. That being said, however, is $20 million enough? There are those who don't think so:

Tarek Fatah, communications director for the Muslim Canadian Congress, said the government's increased commitment in the earthquake's aftermath is far from enough to meet the immense need.

"I'm not satisfied with 20 million (dollars)," Fatah said.

"This is an area of about 20 million people.... The sheer rebuilding effort is going to take billions of dollars."

On a per capita basis, Canada's contribution compares favourably with other nations.

I'm inclined to think that more money will become available, probably double or triple this amount -- leading to a revision of the Finance Minister's budget figures for next year. What with last year's tsunami, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Canada's emergency preparedness policies are in serious need of review.

I also note some fuel for the nekulturniks: Stephen Harper has as yet no statement on the earthquake, while Jack Layton does. (Though to be fair, the party site hasn't been updated yet.)