Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Tsunami Warning: To Avoid Another Disaster, We Must Stop Ignoring a World of Want

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Tsunami Warning: To Avoid Another Disaster, We Must Stop Ignoring a World of Want

Article excerpt

IN THE AWFUL AFTERMATH OF THE SOUTHEAST ASIAN tsunami, it's easy to wonder how a merciful and loving God could allow such a catastrophe. But comprehending God's providence is a challenge even to those among us burdened with divinity degrees, so here's a more practical question to ponder: How does a merciful and loving humankind stand by while a dozen comparable catastrophes continue year upon year upon year?

While the Asian tsunami seized headlines around the world, a slower, subtle tsunami of poverty and indifference continued its grim work, stealing away thousands of lives each ticking second of each passing day. This "silent tsunami," as U.N. special advisor on development Jeffrey D. Sachs calls it, is a collection of purely preventable unnatural disasters assailing the world's poorest people.

If more than 150,000 people snatched away in the blink of an eye is an unspeakable tragedy, how do we assess the loss of 150,000 children who die each month because of malaria? How do we account for the 5 to 7 million children who die each year from hunger? Where are the telethons for the thousands who succumb to diarrhea each day because 2.6 billion people still don't have access to basic sanitation?

Let's hope that ours is not a problem of cold hearts but limited imaginations. Certainly when we are jolted from our cultural slumber by specific natural disasters, we do respond generously. The heart-breaking images out of Thailand, Indonesia, India, and Sri Lanka in December and January and the stories of almost unfathomable suffering by parents and orphaned children provoked an appropriate outpouring of prayer, sympathy, and financial support for the survivors.

While individuals in the First World reached deeply into their pockets, it took a U.N. official's description of Western powers as "stingy" to finally spur their embarrassed governments to do the same. President Bush and Colin Powell responded to those comments with predictably outraged denials, but the rotten truth is that in any honest assessment of the West's annual commitment to the war on poverty, "stingy" is perhaps too kind a word.

Each year the U.S. contributes just 0.15 of 1 percent of its annual gross national product to relief and development aid. …

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