The Boxing Day Tsunami
Bill Clinton's advice in today's Washington Post:
First, we must get better at managing risk. Climate change and patterns of human behavior ensure that more devastating natural disasters will occur in the future. The good news is that officials in the countries affected by the tsunami have made progress on a regional early-warning system, natural disaster prevention legislation, training of rapid-response personnel and public education. However, funding for prevention is much harder to come by than funding for relief after a disaster. Donors and governments of at-risk nations must invest much more money to ensure that early-warning systems reach coastal communities, that safe building codes are developed and enforced, and that evacuations are practiced.
Second, we should pursue recovery practices that promote equity and help break patterns of underdevelopment. In the Cuddalore District of India, for example, officials have worked with nongovernmental organizations to expand their post-tsunami housing program to include new homes for Dalits and members of other disadvantaged communities. Many of these people did not lose assets in the tsunami but had been living in substandard conditions. Authorities in Aceh are considering similar solutions for former squatters and renters who did not own the housing they lost in the tsunami. Such efforts should be strongly encouraged.
Third, we must recognize that peace is critical to any recovery process. In Aceh, long-conflicted groups put aside entrenched differences and created an environment conducive to reconstruction. Tragically, the tsunami has not had a similar impact on reconciliation in Sri Lanka, where the recovery will be continue to be hampered until the parties resume a serious dialogue and reestablish the cease-fire. I hope they will choose to work for peace; all of Sri Lanka, especially the tsunami victims, will continue to suffer until they do.
Finally, we must do more to harness the talents of local entrepreneurs and established businesses, domestic and foreign, in relaunching economies. Corporations in the United States and around the world contributed generously to the tsunami response, but we need to do more to turn philanthropists into investors, and providers of access to new markets.
Two years ago, millions around the world responded generously to a tragedy of historic proportions. The challenge that remains is to sustain the recovery effort, use the lessons we are learning to continually improve our response, and apply those lessons to mitigate and respond to future disasters. This will be the most fitting way to honor the memory of the hundreds of thousands who died in the tsunami and to support the millions who survived and are rebuilding their lives.