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Tsunami Report: What Lies Ahead, What We Can Do

Mills College Weekly

The health challenges resulting from the recent tsunami are staggering in their scope and potential duration. While the current number of victims far surpasses any loss of human life due to natural disaster in recorded history, further complications can only increase the death toll.

If I can keep your attention through the following barrage of medical terms, I’m sure you’ll agree that the silent aftershocks of that fateful earthquake have hardly begun. The list of projected and potential illnesses and diseases is overwhelming. It includes waterborne and foodborne illnesses such as cholera, diarrhea, hepatitis A, hepatitis E, and leptospirosis, as well as parasitic diseases transmitted through animals or mosquitoes such as amebiasis, cryptosporidiosis, rotavirus, and dengue. Potential respiratory illnesses include the avian flu, respiratory syncytial virus, and tuberculosis. When you combine this with the dangers of wound-associated tetanus and the devastating and inevitable mental health effects, it’s obvious that as horrible as Dec. 26, 2004 was, the worst is likely still to come. (Center for Disease Control)

Pretty startling to think the worst is still ahead considering what has already happened. Estimates of the death toll are currently above 280,000. ( The coastal areas immediately affected by the tsunami in places such as Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand were home to mainly poor communities in countries already struggling under heavy debt obligations from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. The WB and IMF are currently considering debt relief for those countries hit hardest, but what comes of that remains to be seen. Both organizations have a track record of publicly promising much more than they actually deliver. For example, when Hurricane Mitch hit Honduras and Nicaragua in 1998, killing over 9,000 people and leaving over 3 million homeless, less than a third of the $5.2 billion pledged by the WB, IMF, and European Union was ever delivered. (Bretton Woods Project)

The implications are that these countries are hardly in a position to launch and finance the widespread public health projects so desperately needed. On the brighter side of things, human compassion has led to an outpouring of financial and material donations from all around the world. Perhaps the most pressing need is to provide survivors with access to healthcare, safe food, clean water, and shelter. Today, roughly a month after the tsunami, many survivors are still without some, if not all of these necessities. (

While these tasks seem daunting, they also offer a hidden measure of hope. Most of the coastal communities evolved with little to no urban planning. As a result, many areas had inadequate sewage systems, no municipal access to water, and poor roadways. The destruction wrought on Dec. 26, 2004 has opened up the opportunity to rebuild communities in ways that improve environmental sustainability, standards of living, and quality of life. (

Many of us want to get involved and do something to help with this process. If you’re on a student-sized budget like I am, requests for money can be a bit daunting. During the days immediately following the tsunami, aid organizations were flooded with blankets and clothing.

While such materials are needed, it is more helpful to send cash donations. Cash is more helpful for a number of reasons relating to efficiency and triaging of resources. (USAID) Perhaps the most compelling reason to give money relates to how it can be funneled into the wounded economies of affected nations. Many aid organizations are hiring local labor to rebuild much of the destroyed infrastructure. Our donations add to the budget allotted for such projects. For families that have lost everything, these wages are the first step on the long road back to normalcy. ( If you are interested in helping, the following Web site, run by USAID has an extensive list and information on organizations accepting donations. If you are unable to send money but still want to help, there are things you can do. With so much attention on the tsunami, many local charitable organizations are having a hard time meeting the needs of the communities they serve. People who usually donate time and money here in the Bay Area are helping in Asia instead. The following Web site provides information on other opportunities to help.