Editor's Choice Archive 1

Tsunami Grief and the World's Problems

By Patricia Keegan

What was stolen from all Americans on 9/11 was our individual sense of environmental security. It was barely noticed until it was gone, perhaps forever. What was stolen from all tsunami victims, from Indonesia to Sri Lanka to Africa, was their trust in the magnetic beauty of the ocean. They too have lost their sense of environmental security. The massive destruction and human carnage has shaken world consciousness on many levels, some not yet clear.

From both the sea and the sky came unimaginable and unpredictable violence. Nothing can be taken for granted -- not the sea, not the sky and not the lives of those we love. We have moved toward greater awareness of the fragility of life, and will, most likely, move still further.

Solomon once said, “Where there is no vision the people perish.” Events are forcing us to look beyond our small, local interests to the bigger world and to view more compassionately its stress-torn areas.

The world’s response to the tsunami’s affected regions is an inspiration. It is also an indication of the enormity of potential relief for festering problems facing our planet. This must give some consolation to the beleaguered United Nations, working 24/7, endeavoring to bring hope to all the sad corners of the planet where children die from malnourishment, legacies of war, ongoing violence and disease.

Jan Egeland, UN Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Relief, at a press conference on January 3, when asked about the anomaly of “competitive compassion” in response to the Tsunami, gave this surprising reply: 'This is the first time we have had a “fully funded appeal.”

From Egeland’s perspective, he sees parts of the world as experiencing a tsunami in one way or another every week. A few weeks ago the United Nations issued a report detailing the deaths of 29,000 children every day due to malnutrition and disease. That is equal to 10 million children in one year. When his organization sends out an appeal, Egland said, they receive a mere third to fifty percent. Why this apparant lethargy? I can only believe that no one hears the call. If it takes a tsunami to reach our souls, what is it going to take to keep us informed and caring and keep this “competitive compassion” energized?. Other than putting in early warning systems, we cannot control Mother Nature, but we ought to change what we can, while we can.

Where is the apolitical leadership that could move this wave of unprecedented, compassionate initiative forward?

Enter Mark Malloch Brown, administrator of the UNDP, (United Nations Development Program), who has just been appointed by Kofi Annan as his new chief of staff, to promote economic development in the world’s poorest countries. This is one of those rare cases where precisely the right person is in the right place at the right time. Malloch Brown, a dynamic, experienced, humanitarian, knows the troubled corners of the world and has for many years worked tirelessly to ignite the flame of transformation. Malloch Brown came to the UN from the World Bank where he was Vice President for External Affairs and for UN Affairs from 1996 to 1999. During the early part of his career he worked for the UNHCR, (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), and from there he went to Thailand to serve as field director for Cambodian refugees. In 1981 he was appointed Deputy Chief of the Emergency Unit in Geneva, undertaking extensive missions in the horn of Africa and Central America. In 1981, UNHCR and its staff were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Malloch Brown founded the Economist Development Report and has been consistently involved with the plight of refugees from Cambodia to Bosnia. In speaking at a forum in Washington on the Millennium Development Goals, he talked about how the reponse to 9/11 changed the world and how problems from Afghanistan to Sierra Leone, left unaddressed, breed “alienation, frustration and despair, and a damaging lack of faith in political institutions. It fuels the spread of deadly diseases and environmental degradation and has a devastating impact on human dignity, leaving us all more vulnerable.”