Fraser Speirs captures my thoughts about the just-passed three-minute silence for the victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami. Although there is considerable bathos in the notion of Tessa Jowell figuring the appropriate length of a silence on some sort of populist slide rule, I would question the point in holding a silence at all. Whilst the loss of life is tragic, and unprecedented (at least in my lifetime), what good is done by 300 million people falling silent at the same appointed time? It is all very well to reflect on tragedy, but surely not whilst tragedy is still befalling millions of people in the region, displaced from their homes; suffering loss of their friends, family members and livelihoods; and at risk from outbreak of disease. Three minutes of silence, of inactivity, is no use when we should be doing something to ameliorate the situation in the countries surrounding the Indian Ocean.
But what should we do? For advice, most of us turn immediately to the media, whose buzz phrase seems to be "unprecedented generosity". We see that our government has made a donation, and it seems to be more than other nations, so there is a rosy glow of self-satisfaction, knowing that our money is being used in a humanitarian fashion. Certain political persuasions take the view that the government has no right to use taxes for any other reason than self-interest (neatly overlooking the geographic illiteracy of the population in certain nations, and the fact that the USA has at least as much self-interest in lending humanitarian support to the victim countries as it did in ousting Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq).
So, whether because we feel obliged to do something personally, or because we are unimpressed by the governments' contributions, we make personal donations. We can make a donation that feels appropriate, based on the scale of the tragedy, and our ability to donate. From one angle, we are berated on radio talk shows for not sacrificing enough — ten per cent of gross income is suggested as an appropriate amount, despite reports that the loss of salary would see two million Brits penniless within a week. Not to be outdone, other outlets inform us that simply donating money is not enough: we must make some physical contribution to the aid effort if we are to be truly humane, and the deleterious effect of thousands of clueless-but-well-intentioned volunteers descending on already overstretched aid agencies can be ignored.
What is the best thing to do? I don't know, but, if you can, donate. I applaud Anders Jacobsen's pledge to donate $1 for every person who reproduces the following:
International aid organizations:
UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund)
United Nations' World Food Programme
Medecins Sans Frontieres / Doctors without Borders (donate!)
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
Disasters Emergency Comittee (DEC) - comprises a raft of aid agencies, including the below and others
British Red Cross
Save the Children UK
American Red Cross
Canadian Red Cross
Save The Children
Anders Jacobsen: Webloggers: Give to tsunami victims and I'll give too!
I suggest, if you have a blog, that you visit Anders' site and reproduce the above in a post. Every dollar helps.