It is unfortunate, in this respect, that the necessary inclusiveness in a conflict-sensitive developmental process is not one that is espoused by stakeholders such as the People’s Liberation Front (JVP), who are wholly against the participation of the LTTE in the relief efforts. The pathetic fallacy of their arguments mirrors a larger depravity of mainstream political parties to mutually agree upon a national consensus for long-term relief. If, on the one hand, the LTTE states that the relief efforts take precedence over political differences that existed prior to the tsunami, it is up to the political forces in the south to take up this position and lock the LTTE into a national dialogue that uses long-term relief efforts as a springboard to re-energise a dormant peace process and lock them into frameworks that are democratic, accountable and transparent. Clearly, the LTTE has demonstrated an ability, in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami, to rapidly mobilise rescue efforts. What is unclear is whether they are receptive to enter mechanisms that lock them into aid that then cannot be used for the procurement of weapons, for instance. Mechanisms that both envision new futures must also address the plague of continuing human rights violations at present, realising that both co-exist in a continuum that can only be challenged by democratic means and not by hegemonic control over territory as the sole arbiter on all matters of development and relief. Given that the LTTE has expressed a desire to work collaboratively with the government on the long-term tsunami response, it is up to the powers in the south to come up with structures that include them in transformative processes that will seamlessly dovetail with efforts at peacebuilding as well.
Donors have a special role in this new paradigm. While it is correct that the conditions to the disbursement of aid imposed in Tokyo in 2001 may no longer hold true, it is also a challenge to create structures that can work with both the Government and the LTTE. The creation of infrastructure and livelihoods is bound to be hotly-contested issues in the communities and geographical terrain that the tsunamis have affected the most. Donors are thus placed in a precarious position, but one that is ripe with opportunity. They once again command the authorities to instruct frameworks that disburse money in a manner that is equitable and resonant with needs on the ground.
The deaths of so many in Sri Lanka and the region may blind us to another danger. Sri Lanka and South and Southeast Asia, in the space of a few weeks, received more aid than most other humanitarian disasters in Africa which have existed for far longer, with cumulative casualties that dwarf the numbers who died in the tsunamis. As Stephen Lewis, UN Special Envoy for HIV / AIDS in Africa succinctly states,
“it is hugely worthy of applause that the governments of the world, overwhelmingly of the western world, have pledged, in a mere three weeks, some 5.5 to six billion dollars. However, it is bracing to note that in more than three years, they have summoned, in pledges, almost exactly the same amount--$5.9 billion-- for the Global Fund to fight the pandemic of HIV / AIDS.
Without the slightest invidious intent, it is important to recall that there are today, now, at this very moment, six million dying of AIDS, 4.1 million of them in Africa. I don’t begrudge a penny to Southeast Asia. But what does it say about the world–that we can tolerate the slow and unnecessary death of millions, whose lives would be rescued with treatment?
The tsunamis must be seen to be the turning point. The publics of the world have shown their desperate concern for the human condition: how long will it take for governments to do the same?
We must consider ourselves lucky. Coupled with a gratitude to the unprecedented generosity of individuals and states must also lie a commitment to ensure that the help we have received should not go to waste, or into the private coffers of those greedy for short-term gain. An acute awareness of the continued suffering of people in equally, if not more desperate, circumstances in other parts of the world must sensitise us to how lucky we are to be faced with the financial and human resources to build a better future.
As civil society organizations have also pointed out, one needs to address the complex dynamics of sustainable development in a holistic manner. This may not lie in the creation of wholly new frameworks and institutions to deal with the tsunami relief efforts, but more critically, in strengthening existing institutions (and processes) to augment their capacity to address the needs of the social fabric affected by the tsunamis. With accountable and transparent frameworks, aid should also go to legitimate, proven civil society organizations that have a demonstrable capacity to address the ripple effects of the tsunami on a number of levels, from grassroots to the levels of policy making.
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Sanjana Hattotuwa is a Rotary World Peace Scholar presently pursuing a Masters in International Studies from the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. The views expressed here are his own. He can be contacted at [email protected]
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