Cutting through the bullshit.

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Some friends

Three days after the tsunami, caused by an 8.2 Richter earthquake, followed by over fifty severe aftershocks, thousands of villagers in the western Solomon Islands are still sleeping rough without shelter, food, or water. According to an AP report in today’s Washington Post by Meraiah Foley,

Aid workers complained Thursday that relief efforts are chaotic and lack resources as the homeless in squalid camp faced growing health risks.

"We have not reached people as soon as we could ... because of the widespread nature of this particular disaster," said Fred Fakarii, chairman of the National Disaster Management Council.

The U.N. raised the death toll by six on Thursday to 34 and authorities estimate the number of homeless at around 5,600 in the impoverished chain of some 200 islands northeast of Australia in the South Pacific.

Red Cross official Nancy Jolo said the risk of disease was rising in the largest refugee camp located near Gizo.

Fakarii said medical staff in Gizo had been overwhelmed by injuries and feared diseases such as diarrhea, cholera and malaria could break out because of the unhygienic conditions and lack of clean water and fresh food.

"The recovery operation is not going as fast as expected because of delays here in Honiara," [chief government spokesman Alfred] Maesulia told The Associated Press. "Suppliers don't have the volumes of relief materials we need to send."

Much of the aid coming into Gizo wasn't being distributed beyond depots because of vehicle shortages, and a lack of workers to load trucks or clear debris that has severed road links to outlying villages.

"There are many more injured people on Limbo island and we haven't been able to get them off," [nurse Hugo] Losena said.

Meanwhile, hundreds of highly trained foreign police and military personnel seem to have been entirely unprepared for a predictable disaster in the Pacific’s ‘Ring of Fire’ where 90% of the world’s earthquakes are said to occur. The Australian Defence Force website claims ‘Approximately 140 ADF troops are now deployed in the Solomon Islands’ as part of Operation ANODE, ‘the Australian Defence Force (ADF) contribution to the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI). RAMSI's assistance is known as Operation HELPEM FREN’. The Australian Federal Police site doesn’t mention the number they have posted to the Solomons. Contingents from New Zealand and other Pacific island countries are also involved.

In December 2004, when Australian Protective Service Officer Adam Dunning was killed in Honiara, Wikipedia reckons

Within 24 hours, a rifle company group from the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment was flown into the Solomon Islands.

But when it comes to disaster relief, it takes a lot longer. Just yesterday Defence Minister Brendan Nelson announced

More than 100 Army Reservists drawn from New South Wales based units will soon deploy overseas to the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI).

The highly skilled contingent…comprises a headquarters and an infantry company, supported by signallers, armoured corps personnel, engineers, drivers and medics.

These soldiers are well led, well trained and well equipped to undertake the task. The Force Preparation Course also covered areas such as environmental awareness, cultural and social traditions and language skills.

Two days after the tsunami, this contingent ‘will soon deploy’, and not a word about disaster relief, either in their training or their mission. The today, the ABC reported

Australian troops in Solomon Islands are on standby to provide assistance for the country's tsunami relief effort.

The Chief of the Australian Army, Lieutenant-General Peter Leahy, says they will be ready to respond if local authorities ask for help.

"If support is required from ADF forces deployed in the Solomon Islands they'll be in the frontline, helping out and making sure that they can assist the people there."

It’s reassuring to leanr that they’ll be ready to help out if required. WSWS’s Will Marshall observes,

Canberra has pledged $A2 million ($US1.6 million) in assistance while Wellington has said it will contribute half that amount. The US has offered a miserable $US250,000.

While hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent bolstering the police, courts, and prison systems, nothing has been done to alleviate the widespread poverty and unemployment afflicting the country.

The Solomons receives briefings from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Honolulu but is unable to immediately pass on vital information to the population…Australia’s RAMSI authorities apparently made no effort to implement a tsunami alert mechanism in the Solomons, despite the terrible lesson inflicted by the 2004 tsunami

Some friends! Some help!

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