IT TOOK immense pressure from ordinary people to force the British and US governments to come up with the—still inadequate—aid they have now offered.
Speaking from his holiday villa in Sharm al-Sheikh in Egypt on New Year’s Day, Blair said the British people’s generosity in donating over £60 million in a matter of days was “remarkable.”
But New Labour initially pledged only £1 million for the tsunami victims.
This was immediately overtaken by spontaneous donations from the public.
Hilary Benn, secretary for international development, defended the government’s response. But, put to shame by the public donations, he upped the money to £15 million—while public donations reached £25 million a day later.
Eventually Blair upped the pledge to £50 million, but this still fell short of the solidarity from ordinary people.
Collections have taken place in all areas of life—from workplaces, to schools, to football matches, to mosques, churches and temples.
This has now forced the government to say there is “no cap” on the money that could be made available.
George Bush was equally stingy.
His first pledge of $15 milion—less than the cost of a single F-16 jet—was first raised to $35 million.
That had to be quickly increased when even establishment figures in the US attacked how small it was.
Senator Patrick Leahy commented, “We spend $35 million before breakfast in Iraq.” This, and other criticisms, provoked the government into promising a donation of $350 million—although this includes “long term aid”.
Considering the UN estimates that five million people may be affected by the tsunami, such a figure is woefully inadequate.
The world’s richest country is currently proposing to donate $7 per person made destitute.
Contrast this with preparations for one of the world’s most expensive parties.
Bush’s inauguration on 20 January is set to cost approximately $40 million—and that does not include the unrevealed cost of security for the events.
For $250,000 individuals can buy an exclusive lunch with Bush and Cheney and a pass to one of the nine inaugural balls set to be held.
The US government’s aid to Asia contrasts with the $3.2 billion the Federal Emergency Management Agency alone gave to reconstuction in Florida after the hurricanes last year.
The Florida hurricanes killed 116 people and there was a real need for relief.
But Bush’s real motive was to shore up a key state (where his brother was governor) in an election year.
The priorities of Bush and Blair have not changed, even when faced with the disaster caused by the tsunami.