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Opinion: Six Months After the Tsunami

Six months have passed since a violent tsunami rose from the Indian Ocean, bringing death and destruction to many coastal areas. Aid came flooding in from all over the world, but there are still many victims in need.

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Six months after the tsunami, there is still a lot of work to be done

The worst natural disaster for several decades claimed 220,000 lives and wreaked havoc along the Indian Ocean coastline. The rich and poor, the luxury Thai resorts and poor southern Indian fishing villages were crushed under its weight. It made no distinctions as it destroyed rebel camps in northern Sumatra and the army troops attacking them.

In the overwhelming horror which the tsunami left in its wake, regional problems and conflicts paled to relative insignificance. The images which were beamed out around the world touched the hearts of people tens of thousands of kilometers away and led them to dig into their pockets as they had never done before. Rarely had the bond between north and south been as close as in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami.

There was even a distant hope that the flood waters would wash away some of the trouble already present in the region, such as the civil wars in Aceh and Sri Lanka, and corruption and mismanagement in almost all affected countries.

Short-lived good intentions

In the weeks following the tsunami, much lip service was paid to the notion that local survivors had suffered enough. Negotiations on ending the civil war in Aceh began and in Sri Lanka, Tamil Tiger and Singhalese representatives met to discuss how best to spend the aid money.

Banda Aceh

Devestated coastal area in Aceh

They agreed to get the money to those in need as quickly as possible without tangling it up in red tape or losing it in the normal labyrinths of corruption and mismanagement.

But now, half a year on, local and international aid workers have done their bit, the majority of designated money has been paid into United Nations accounts, many small-scale, grassroots projects have been implemented, and the Indian Ocean will soon get an early warning system.

That, however, is not the whole picture. Aid workers in Indonesia's Aceh are subject to changing residency rules imposed by local authorities, their freedom of movement is restricted and the civil war continues.

And in Sri Lanka, the dispute about how to spend the aid money has already brought the coalition government to its knees and led to violent conflicts.

Although India pledged swift and non-bureaucratic assistance, many people are still waiting for the authorities there to make good on that promise.

Aid funds are accumulating in bank accounts, there are constant reports of corruption and many victims who still haven't received any money feel as though they have been cheated.

Business as usual

Schon wieder da

Thailand is keen to lure tourists back to its beaches

Meanwhile, Thailand's beaches, with their slew of new hotels and tourist-filled bars, are testimony to the ability of some to leave the past well and truly behind them. Daily life has returned and with it the same local problems which dogged the region before the giant wave stuck.

Much of the money is still in the bank, the emergency aid work is complete but in most regions reconstruction has not yet really begun. On balance, it is now clear that good will and solidarity are not enough, and that politicians have to make sure help is delivered where it is most needed. It must take priority over local conflicts and spending should be controlled by an independent body.

Politicians in the flood regions owe that to their populations, where many people are still traumatized, just as they owe it to the people in far off places who sent millions of euros worth of aid.

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