Dáil debates

Wednesday, 26 January 2005

Tsunami Disaster: Statements.


6:00 pm

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)

Words fail us when faced with loss of life, livelihoods and basic needs of life and culture of the scale created by the tsunami and its awful aftermath, which will continue for years. In the years to come, will we monitor the loss of life anticipated as a result of disease and many other hardships facing the areas affected?

We must first express sympathy to all those affected, including the families of those who died. Many westerners, including a number of Irish people, died and we express sympathy to their families. Although many Swedish and British people who were on holiday in the region also died, the vast majority of the victims were local people barely holding onto life and leading subsistence lives. Their destitute circumstances mean they have much in common with many other people dying in other parts of the world such as the western Sahara and Darfur. As other speakers have stated, many of people in such areas are dying without the media coverage many outlets have afforded south-east Asia since the tsunami disaster. If those who continue to die due to avoidable reasons, such as lack of clean water, basic medicines or food, were businessmen or football teams involved in an aeroplane crash, our newspapers would not cover anything else.

There is a degree of intolerance towards constant exposure to a disaster of this nature. We have been tested in this respect by the huge scale of the tsunami. Nevertheless, we live on a planet in which we are all interdependent. Therefore, we need to get used to the fact that poorer people are getting poorer and richer people are getting richer. This problem will not be resolved unless we transform our way of life. As Gandhi said, there is enough in the world for everybody's needs but not enough for everybody's greed. Perhaps greed is still the uppermost motivation behind much of the economic life that sustains us.

Will the Minister provide more detail on the outcome of his meeting with the aid agencies on 4 January? I asked the Taoiseach for details as he was involved in the meeting but the question was transferred to the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

I thank all those involved in voluntary fundraising efforts which culminated in a sum of €40 million being raised for victims of the tsunami. Many of the efforts in my constituency, for example, by organisations such as the Hills cricket club or Skerries community school, raised money to buy items such as boats which would be of practical assistance to families. This is not sufficient, however, when one considers that many of the fish in the region were destroyed by the disaster. Silt has covered the beds which provide a breeding ground for fish. Without fresh water, life will not be possible. We face a major challenge in sustaining the interest and effort that has been so fantastic in the initial period.

Information provided by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in the United States indicates the incredible change in the landscape of the region, notwithstanding the human impact of the tragedy. The tsunami has virtually destroyed everything within two kilometres of the shoreline and there is no possibility that people will be able to live in that area in the foreseeable future.

Regardless of whether the eventual death toll is 250,000 or half a million, many times that number of people will be vulnerable to disease. We know from the ecology of mosquitoes that they seldom breed in salt water and many would have been destroyed by the huge tidal wave. However, the wave also created millions of places in which mosquitoes can breed. Malaria and other diseases will take hold anywhere fresh water can lodge, which will be a problem.

One issue not raised this evening is the extent to which places such as many of the Maldive, Andoman, and Nicobar islands have had to be abandoned. Coffins were left floating in the water in Chaura Island because people were forced to abandon it. Political refugees are recognised under the rulings of the United Nations Commission for Refugees and countries must make provision for them. Environmental refugees, however, fall outside the scope of these provisions. I ask the Minister to take on board this anomaly, which may have been the result of a view that environmental refugees could be dealt with by the home country. In light of the prospect that whole countries may no longer exist or may become uninhabitable, how would one tell the Government of such a country to take care of refugees who do not have a home? I ask the Minister, with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to take on board this reality, which the tsunami brought home to us.

It is a reality that will be brought home to us again and again with climate change and rising sea levels in places such as Tuvalu in the Pacific. One will not be able to tell a government to take care of its people because the government and the country will have been wiped out. Hopefully, that ruling will change, along with the ruling regarding the 0.7% of GDP to be allocated to ODA, the need for early warning systems and the need for close co-operation with the NGOs which are being stretched but which continue to do great work. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees needs to change the rulings in the aftermath of this disaster and this is one lesson which must be learned and acted on.


No comments

Log in or join to post a public comment.