Monday, October 03, 2005

The Difference between Two Tsunamies


By Thang D. Nguyen

JAKARTA—The word ‘crisis’ in Chinese has two syllables: The first one means danger and the second means opportunity. This is exactly how the Asian tsunami has unfolded in the Indonesian province of Aceh, which was the worst-hit area when this catastrophe happened on Boxing Day last year.

As soon as the news of the Asian tsunami—which wiped out almost everything (except for a few mosques and churches) and killed more than 126,000 Indonesians—broke out, the Indonesian government made its response to the victims and their families a national priority.

Next, the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono government put in place a plan to coordinate the recovery and rebuilding of Aceh, with relief and financial aid from the international community, including the US.

But most importantly, the Indonesian government saw the Asian tsunami as a perfect opportunity to bring peace to Aceh and seized it. After five rounds of talk, on Aug. 15, Jakarta and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) signed a peace agreement in Helsinki.

If implemented successfully, this peace deal could end the three-decade long conflict between the Indonesian military (TNI) and GAM, who had been fighting for full independence from Jakarta.

Roughly two weeks later, half the world away, a different tsunami happened. Hurricane Katrina ripped through the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, and its neighboring areas, followed by heavy floods.

So far, Hurricane Katrina has killed about 1,000 Americans, and the final death toll can be up to 10,000. Meanwhile, it has left about 300,000 people homeless.

Unlike the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono Administration’s, however, the Bush Administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina has been more than disappointing.

As Katrina floods engulfed New Orleans, thousands of victims, most of whom were poor African Americans, called and waited for help in vain, while many others disappeared or died.

Whereas the Asian tsunami ignited the peace-building process in Aceh and brought the Indonesian people closer together, Hurricane Katrina has widened the gap between black and white Americans.

It is quite understandable that black victims of Hurricane Katrina feel that they have not received the treatment from their government because of their skin color. After all, they paid US tax, and their sons went to war in Iraq.

The US National Guards could have been sent to New Orleans to help victims when Hurricane Katrina happened. But, alas, they too were in Baghdad at that time. To be sure, some did come home, but in body bags!

But, now that the camera has moved on and the water in New Orleans is receding, it remains to be seen if the Bush Administration will give full support, financial and otherwise, to the rebuilding of Katrina-affected areas, as President George W. Bush has pledged.

Meanwhile, one thing is certain: The US does have the resources with which it can rebuild Katrina-affected cities.

Unlike Indonesia—which has been going through some political and economic tough times since the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997-98, of which it was one of the most prominent victims—the US is still the world’s most powerful economy.

But does the Bush Administration have the commitment and experience that it takes to help victims of Hurricane Katrina and their families rebuild their homes, their cities, and most importantly, their lives?

On this particular note, it is hoped that President Bush, who requested that President Yudhoyono sit next to him at the UN Summit dinner earlier this month, asked for advice on how to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina from his Indonesian counterpart.

To be sure, President Bush could learn a thing or two from President Yudhoyono. Compared with the American president, the Indonesian president had a tougher crisis to deal with when the Asian tsunami hit Indonesia.

For one thing, while President Bush had received warnings about Hurricane Katrina, the Asian tsunami caught President Yudhoyono and his people by surprise. (Ironically, it was an American meteorologist who saw the Asian tsunami coming, but could not send a warning to affected countries in time.)

Furthermore, by the time Hurricane Katrina happened, President Bush was quite experienced in crisis management, having dealt with 9/11, waged war with the al-Qaida in Afghanistan, and invaded Iraq. By contrast, when the Asian tsunami came, President Yudhoyono was only two months in office.

Given his learning curve, however, President Yudhoyono seems to have done a good job in dealing with the Asian tsunami and rebuilding Aceh—thanks to the generosity that the international community has pledged thus far.

To be sure, Indonesia is in no position to teach the US about unity and diversity, given the challenge of maintaining its own national integrity. But the Bush Administration can certainly look at the peace-building process that the Indonesian government has started in Aceh as an example of what it can do now in Hurricane Katrina-affected areas.

It is sad to see through Hurricane Katrina that, until today, the United States of America is still a house divided between black and white. But, at the same time, Hurricane Katrina has also offered President Bush a perfect opportunity to heal America.

Mr. President, don’t waste this opportunity!

Oh, and while you are at it, you might want to sign the Kyoto Protocol on environment protection to help prevent future natural disasters like Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, whose real name are—you guessed it—global warming.

The writer is a Jakarta-based columnist, whose writing can be read at He writes frequently, and has published two books, on Indonesia.


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4:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

now that new orleans will be built as a white city, the future looks great

6:48 AM  
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4:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i feel New Orleans will become a better city without the drag down of low income housing and people dependant on it. but the rest of the state is suffering. the crime rate in other parishes has shot up and will continue to until we can send the criminals some where else.

9:12 PM  
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7:39 PM  

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