When world leaders look around at their summit in Jakarta,
Indonesia, Thursday to coordinate their tsunami relief efforts, they
will notice some new faces at the table.
The traditional symmetry of aid that once matched rich, developed
donors with poor Third World recipients is now skewing. Victims like
India are helping other victims; beneficiaries of foreign aid like
China are handing out money and sending doctors to Indonesia; and
badly hit Thailand is turning down Europe's offers of debt relief
for fear it could hurt its credit rating.
Governments and citizens of wealthy countries still feel a moral
obligation to help poor nations - particularly in times of telegenic
disaster - as the outpouring of more than $3 billion in state
tsunami aid shows. Wednesday, Germany, Australia, and Britain all
upped their pledges significantly.
But as the Dec. 26 disaster highlights, recipients are not always
as receptive as they once might have been. Some countries don't want
the "deserving poor" label - and the associated baggage of colonial
paternalism. They prefer a more dynamic, self-reliant image.
India, for example, where nearly 10,000people are reported dead,
has raised eyebrows by turning down international offers of help. As
the Indian military launched its biggest-ever peacetime disaster
relief operation, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that he had
told President Bush and other world leaders that "as of now we feel
we have adequate resources to meet the challenge." He added, "If and
when we need their help, we will inform them."
Development workers on the ground suggest that the Indian
government is coping without the kind of foreign help that's pouring
into neighboring Sri Lanka. "If things were not going well here we
would raise the alarm," says Corinne Woods, spokeswoman for the
UNICEF. "But everything at this point is working just fine given the
And though India is a poor country in terms of individual
incomes, the government currently has a record surplus of foreign
exchange "that it doesn't know what to do with," says Vani Borooah,
professor of economics at the University of Ulster in Northern
Ireland. Flush with income from software exports and call centers,
India has been taking less and less international aid in recent
years, says Professor Borooah. "The message the government is
sending now is that it has a lot of funds at its disposal, and needs
to use them creatively and economically."
The government is also raising local money creatively and
economically by taking it out of employees' paychecks. At the
government-owned Indian Overseas Bank, which has a strong presence
in Tamil Nadu, one of the worst-hit states, management and the union
decided that all employees would contribute one day's wages to the
government's relief fund. Everyone at the bank "right from the part-
time sweeper to the chairman" is giving up a day's salary, according
to Lakshmanan Balasubramaniam, head of the bank workers' union.
All Tamil Nadu state employees found when they received their pay
checks last week that they had made the same involuntary
contribution. Senior state officials have pledged to give one
India's self-reliance carries a political message too, says Rahul
Bedi, a political analyst in New Delhi. "There is a newfound
confidence," he suggests, "a sense of being able to dine at the high
table. Long gone are the days when India might have been dependent
on handouts from the US or the West."
And as India campaigns for a permanent seat on a revamped United
Nations Security Council, Delhi's actions broadcast another meaning,
says Vinod Mehta, editor of the weekly magazine Outlook.
"India is essentially the economic superpower in the affected
region, and because it can look after its own people it can also
afford to send help to its neighbors," he says.
Indeed, India has sent ships, planes, and helicopters to Sri
Lanka, the Maldives, Thailand, and Indonesia, joining a core group
of key aid givers that also includes the United States, Australia,
and Japan. …