Editorial: The knock-on effects of the tsunami

Stephen Cook, editor

The public response to the Indian Ocean disaster has been magnificent, passing £100m in under a fortnight. It is a spontaneous surge of charity in its purest sense - the impulse to help unknown fellow human beings caught up in suffering. By comparison, the response of the Government looks pallid.

But with this response come a series of problems and challenges for charities and the voluntary sector, starting with the overseas aid organisations. They will have to decide if extra income from supporters and the Disasters Emergency Committee will suffice for all they can and should be doing in Asia. If it won't, where do they cut back? Darfur? An agonising debate on the hierarchy of suffering is under way, with some arguing that the tsunami disaster is less important than, for example, the Aids pandemic.

And then there's the knock-on effect of the giving surge. Ask anybody who has given £50 or £500 to the recent appeal whether they will give the same as usual to other good causes this year. Some will say yes, but many will admit they'll probably scale it down a bit. Government funding will decline in the same way. The cumulative effect of this is enormous, and the sector would be wise to start some contingency planning. Projects will have to be cut, and some might go under.

Another danger, as Peter Stanford points out on the page opposite, is short-termism. Material and emotional recovery from the cataclysm in places such as Sumatra will takes decade: will our generosity flag once the pictures of swirling waters and grief-stricken faces have disappeared from the television screens? The honest answer is yes, it probably will.

All these questions put a sharper focus than ever on the need to build a new world economic order that will allow the poorest countries in the world to benefit fairly from what they produce and release them from their bonds of debt. Then, if disaster were to strike again, they might have to depend less on the wavering generosity of the rich nations. The best thing we can all do is keep up the pressure on governments to change the way the rich world relates to the poor, and - as the saying goes - to make poverty history.

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