Opinion: Help Unwanted


Tim Eggerding

By Elie Dvorin

In many ways, the post-tsunami world has provided reasons for people to be proud. Nations and private citizens alike have scrapped up billions of dollars for the devastated region and have assisted in delivering life-saving supplies. Nobody is morally obligated to donate to the relief efforts, but it’s clearly the right thing to do, given the magnitude of the tragedy.

Yet, as the saying goes, “no good deed goes unpunished.” For two very generous nations in particular, this saying became understood after their relief efforts were met with politics and anger instead of gratitude and thanks.

Minutes after the United States offered a $15 million aid package, U.N. Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland remarked that the United States and other western nations were being “stingy” in their contributions. At the time of this donation, the estimated death count was approximately 20,000 people – nowhere near the more than 150,000 people that we now know to have died. As the death toll increased and the world became more aware of the damage, the U.S. aid increased as well, to the $350 million that has currently been pledged. In addition, the U.S. Navy is helping to deliver the food and supplies, while U.S. doctors are assisting with medical expertise. This contribution to the relief efforts makes the United States one of the largest contributors.

The fact is that the comments from the U.N. Undersecretary had nothing to do with the actual amount of aid and everything to do with the United Nations trying to exert its power over the United States. President Bush has said that the United States will be at the top of the donor list regardless of changes in the status of the region.

In addition to the rebuff from the United Nations, the United States suffered another slap in the face. Indonesian Vice President Yusuf Kalla demanded that U.S. troops be out of the country by March – the same military that’s saving the lives of thousands of Indonesian citizens. Is there no shame anymore? Indonesia was the country hardest hit by the tsunamis with approximately 120,000 people killed and its leaders have the nerve to lay down an ultimatum to the nation that is single-handedly doing the most to ensure that the death toll doesn’t grow any higher.

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An Israeli rescue and relief effort was also turned down out of ignorance. Israel was planning on sending more than 80 tons of supplies, including blood, food and blankets, along with a 150-person-specialized medical team. Sri Lanka refused the medical team but was willing to take the supplies. Sri Lanka wanted and needed supplies and medical help, but on principle refused to let in the Israeli delegation. There’s nothing like sacrificing the lives of your citizens to make a political statement.

The western nations received the brunt of the criticism and rejection, but the Muslim world was given a free pass by the media as well as the United Nations. Despite the fact that most of the victims were Muslims, the oil-wealthy Saudi Arabia donated $10 million, Kuwait and Libya each contributed $2 million, while Turkey donated $1.25 million. In a move that would cause any decent person to scratch their head in disbelief, Iran contributed $627,000. The government must have spent all the other money on the nuclear program that it’s not building. Naturally, some of these nations cannot afford to donate the same amount that the United States has, but some of these figures are downright insulting.

Even more troubling is the reason that certain Muslim nations are hesitant to help out with the relief effort. As Ibrahim Al-Bashar, an advisor to Saudi Arabia’s justice minister, explained, “Whoever reads the Koran can see how these nations were destroyed. There is one reason: They lied, they sinned and were infidels.” Now I get it. It was God’s will that these people died and to assist in the relief efforts would be contrary to God’s will.

The generosity and goodwill of most Western nations is obvious by their immediate and significant action in the face of tragedy. They value the importance of life over politics, hatred and ignorance. I wish the same could be said about all nations.

Elie Dvorin is a junior in LAS. His column runs Mondays. He can be reached at [email protected].