Tragedy brings out American generosity

Published 2:03 am Monday, January 3, 2005

By Staff
Jo Bonner
Within a few days of this writing, people around the world will celebrate the arrival of the New Year.
The English writer Charles Lamb wrote of the New Year's celebration, "New Year's Day is every man's birthday." This should for all of us be a time to reflect on the events of the past year and to look forward with optimism and anticipation to the promise of the coming 12 months.
As we have seen in recent days, however, the coming of the New Year has brought with it an overwhelming tragedy and significant loss to many thousands of families on the far side of the world. On Dec. 26, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake in the Indian Ocean resulted in a tsunami that has as of today resulted in nearly 80,000 deaths.
The death toll has increased by thousands every day since the waves washed ashore and took the lives of so many men, women, and children. Indeed, entire villages and towns have been wiped from the face of the earth. The very real threat of disease and famine now faces the survivors in that region, and an immediate response from the international community is required to prevent many thousands more from dying.
At times such as these, the spirit of American generosity and compassion shows itself as it has so many times in the past. Regardless of partisan differences in this country or disputes over what course our government and our policies should take, the overriding concern of all of us is for our fellow man – "an expression of the deep humanitarian instincts of the American people," according to Andrew Natsios, the administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
USAID will certainly play an important role in providing relief to the region affected by the tsunami. Created as the result of an executive order signed by President Kennedy in 1961, USAID is the principal American agency that provides disaster assistance to foreign countries and helps in combating poverty and bringing about democratic reforms.
In the hours following the disaster, the Bush administration pledged an initial sum of $35 million in relief funds, an amount that is certain to grow significantly in the days ahead. Additionally, USAID has pledged the assistance of a disaster response team which includes public health specialists, water and sanitation experts, and field and information officers. U.S. embassies in that region have also pledged an initial $400,000 in emergency relief aid to the victims of the tsunami.
A large amount of relief aid – particularly the amount that will be needed in the months and years ahead to rebuild these ravaged nations – cannot come instantaneously, but the help will come. If you were to believe some of the cable news "talking heads," however, America is a land of misers. Nancy Skinner, a radio talk show host who recently appeared on the Fox Channel's "Hannity and Colmes" program, gave perhaps the strongest example of how facts can easily and quickly be distorted.
As she said, "…something like this happens, 60,000. It could double to 120,000 and we're talking — at first it was $15 million. We're going to spend more on the inaugural events than to help these people." She went on to say that the United States gives one of the lowest amounts of relief aid of any industrialized nation.
I think it is an absolute outrage that anyone, especially an American, would question our country's willingness to help our neighbors across the ocean. Even as far back as post-World War II Germany, when the old Army Air Force was airlifting supplies to the thousands barricaded in Berlin by the Soviet military, the United States has been the first in line to pledge aid to countries in need.
By comparison, the European Union (EU) has pledged an initial amount equivalent to $4.1 million. When one considers that the EU is comprised of 25 member nations, their aid averages approximately $165,000 per nation. Japan has pledged $30 million in aid to this point. Germany and Ireland have each pledged just over $1 million, and Australia has pledged $7 million.
Every dollar pledged by these nations will be important in helping the affected region in Southeast Asia recover from a horrible tragedy which I can't even begin to imagine. It will indeed take a global effort to achieve these results, and we are well on our way to that unified effort. The United States has a strong track record of fulfilling its promises of aid and support to other nations; it is my strong hope that the governments of each of the foreign nations pledging millions of dollars in aid will ultimately live up to their promises and obligations.
I would hope, however, that anyone wanting to criticize or politicize our efforts to help these nations will think long and hard about what they are saying. I am extremely confident that the $35 million pledged in these past few days will grow in the time ahead. Indeed, the president has promised that the countries suffering through these devastating times will receive whatever assistance they need.
The time for recovery will be long and difficult, but working together, citizens and governments from around the world will continue to extend the hand of friendship and help these nations get back on their feet.
My staff and I work for the people of south Alabama. Let us know when we can be of service.

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