Disaster Relief as Political Gesture

Last night was one of the rare times I watched the televised news, so I finally saw footage of the impact of the Sichuan earthquake. There’s really no comparing the heartrending effect of video to even still images, let alone press coverage. The impact it had on me reminded me of remarks by a French diplomat for an article I did on the EUFOR Chad mission. He talked about the “CNN effect” on public opinion, and how it has increased the pressure on governments to intervene in far off crises.

I’d add to that the observation that, in ways that are particularly evident this year, the global response to natural disasters has overtaken the Olympic Games as the primary arena of international solidarity. That’s not to say it’s an apolitical arena, since so many of the offers of aid carry very significant political subtexts, as reading through this list of donors makes clear. (Vietnam’s offer of $200,000, for instance, stands out.) But whereas the Olympics still carry political overtones that often divide us, disaster relief gets down to the human urgencies that invariably bind us all together.

Meanwhile, in a bit of tea leaf-reading regarding China’s opening up to the world, Russian and Japanese relief teams have now been allowed entry to the country, and the Ministry of Industry and Information made an “urgent public call” for rescue equipment, ranging from hammers and shovels to cranes and life detectors. I’ll update as I find more.

And in a related development, Jason Siggers over at Armchair Generalist provides a reassuring update on the delivery of relief supplies to Burma. Hopefully the lines will be moved further, but for now it’s a first step.

Update: According to the Pentagon, six more C-130s loaded with relief supplies landed in Burma on Wednesday, bringing the total to eight, and DOD has a verbal commitment from the junta to bring in five more planes today. U.S. military planners are also asking Burmese officials to accept six CH-53 transport helicopters to help distribute relief materiel once it’s in-country.