The death toll has topped 67,000 in Asia and East Africa following the devastating tsunamis that hit the Indian Ocean region on Sunday.
The World Health Organization is warning that the spread of disease, especially malaria and cholera, could end up killing up tens of thousands more people.
Dr. David Nabarro, the head of crisis operations for the World Health Organization, said “The initial terror associated with the tsunamis and the earthquake itself may be dwarfed by the longer term suffering of the affected communities.”
Worst hit have been Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Both countries have lost more than 25,000 people each. The Vice President of Indonesia said his country may have lost as many as 40,000 people. In Sri Lanka the government is estimating 1.5 million people–or nearly 8 percent of the population–is now homeless.
The Indonesian province of Aceh may have been most devastated. Some 10,000 people died in the town of Meulaboh alone.
One British tourist, Al Howard, who was staying on an island near Aceh saw the city of Banda Aceh shortly after the tsunami hit. He said “Everything was flattened. It was like a nuclear bomb had hit the place. I’ve seen bodies before but nothing like this. We lost count. The destruction was of Biblical proportions.” He added “There was nothing we could do … no-one alive to help.”
An official from Unicef in Jakarta Indonesia described the situation in Aceh like this: “There is not anyone to bury the bodies. They should be buried in mass graves, but there is no one to dig graves.”
Humanitarian groups have launched what is believed to be the largest relief effort in the world’s history. Billions of dollars will be needed in the coming weeks.
While the Bush administration has pledged to play a major role in the relief effort, it is already coming under criticism for its handling of the crisis.
On Monday, the Bush administration pledged an initial $15 million for the effort. After a top UN official described the donation as “stingy”, the US pledged another $20 million bringing the total offering to $35 million.
To put the figure in perspective, President Bush plans to spend between $30 and $40 million for his upcoming inauguration celebration.
And the amount pledged to victims of the tsunami is dwarfed by the Bush administration’s war effort in Iraq.
The U.S. has spent an average of $9.5 million every hour on the war and occupation of Iraq. With a current price tag of $147 billion, the U.S. has spent n average of about $228 million a day in Iraq. In other words, the U.S. spends what it promised on the tsunami relief effort in less than four hours in Iraq.
Meanwhile the Washington Post reports that President Bush is also being criticized for failing to address the devastation caused by the tsunami.
Bush has been vacationing at his ranch in Texas and–unlike German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder–has decided not to cut his vacation short. Bush has not even spoken publicly yet about the tragedy.
The Post reports some foreign policy specialists accused the president of communicating a lack of urgency about an event that will loom as large in the collective memories of several countries as the Sept. 11 attacks do in the United States. Leslie Gelb of the Council on Foreign Relations said, “When that many human beings die — at the hands of terrorists or nature — you’ve got to show that this matters to you, that you care.”
Middle East analyst Juan Cole writes that Bush has lost a unique opportunity to reach out to the Muslim world by showing compassion in a time of tragedy. Indonesia, one of the nations hardest hit, is the most populous Muslim country in the world. Cole writes “If Bush were a statesman he would have flown to Jakarta and announced his solidarity with the Muslims of Indonesia.”
The White House has announced that Bush will conduct a National Security Council meeting today by teleconference to discuss several issues, including the tsunami. One White House official attempted to explain Bush’s silence by saying: “The president wanted to be fully briefed on our efforts. He didn’t want to make a symbolic statement about 'We feel your pain.'” But another official described Bush’s silence as “kind of freaky.”
While Bush has been silent, former President Bill Clinton took to the airwaves of the BBC and called on the world community to coordinate the relief effort. He said, “It is really important that somebody take the lead in this. I think one of the problems is when everybody takes responsibility it’s almost like no one’s responsibility.”
In addition, the U.S. scientists in Hawaii originally had vastly underestimated the size of the underwater earthquake. Initial calculations put the earthquake at a magnitude of 8.0. In fact the earthquake was a magnitude of 9.0 — 10 times more powerful than the original estimate.
Charles McCreery, the director of the center, said “Based on it being an 8.0, we assumed the damage would be confined to Sumatra and would be a local tsunami event, one that strikes shore within minutes of the event,”
Countries farther from the earthquake’s epicenter had some time to warn residents. But it appears the government of Thailand realized the dangers but decided not to issue a warning out of fear that it could end up hurting the country’s tourism industry if no tsunami materialized.
An official in the country’s meteorology department told the Guardian of London, “A proper warning was not given. If we had given the warning and then it hadn’t happened, then it would have been the death of tourism in those areas.” In the end at least 1,700 people died in Thailand including hundreds of tourists.
In other news around the world, at least 30 people died in Baghdad today when a house exploded during a police raid. The house was believed to be occupied by members of the Iraqi resistance. Among those killed were six police officers. Several neighboring houses were also destroyed in the blast. Meanwhile the death toll from attacks by Iraqi fighters on Tuesday has grown to 43 including at least a dozen Iraqi police officers.
Secretary of State Colin Powell admitted Tuesday that the Iraqi resistance will not be going away anytime soon. In an interview with CBS news Powell said, “These insurgents are determined to have no representative government. They want to go back to a tyranny. And so the insurgency will continue and the insurgency will have to be defeated by coalition forces.”
In other Iraq news, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark has joined the legal defense team for former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. On Tuesday he flew to Jordan to meet with other attorneys representing Hussein. Clark said, “In international law, anyone accused of a crime has the right to be tried by a confident, independent and impartial court.” He went on to say “The special court in Iraq was created by the Iraqi governing council, which is nothing more than a creation of the US military occupation and has no authority in law as a criminal court.”
The New York Times is reporting the head of the CIA’s analytical branch is being forced to resign. The move marks the latest move by new CIA Director Porter Goss to shake up the agency. Since Goss took over at least six top officials have resigned or retired abruptly, including the second and third highest ranking officials inside the agency.
In Haiti, the U.S.-backed government announced Tuesday it would financially reward the country’s former soldiers including those who participated in the coup that overthrew the democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The government plans to give the former soldiers the equivalent of 10 years of back pay. Aristide disbanded the military a decade ago.
And Susan Sontag died on Tuesday in New York after a long battle with cancer. She was 71 years old. Sontag was one of the country’s leading writers and cultural critics as well as a longtime advocate for human rights. We’ll have more on her life later in the show.