Taking a Breather

Monday, January 31, 2005
I'll be very busy for the next week so expect a short lull in blogging.

In the meantime, I suggest you pick up the first season of 24 and watch it in its 18-hour entirety -- as I did this weekend with a few friends. Simply put, 24 is the most incredible TV show ever made; and I say in all seriousness that watching it changed my life.

More on that later...


Here's an editorial I wrote for my school newspaper. Enjoy.

"Stingy"? I Don't Think So.

The tsunami disaster that ravaged South Asia triggered one of the most massive relief missions in history. Billions of dollars are flowing into the afflicted regions to help the countless survivors whose entire livelihoods were swept away by the sea.

The images of orphans weeping for their parents, and of whole towns reduced to mud and rubble, have spurred an unprecedented outpouring of compassion from the people of the West.

But for one U.N. official, the aid mustered by Western nations was inadequate. In the immediate wake of the disaster, Jan Egeland, the U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, accused rich governments of being "stingy". Following his lead, many critics, including the New York Times, singled out the United States for its miserly response.

Not only is the criticism inaccurate, it is also unfair and offensive. America is indisputably one of the most generous countries in the world, having been at the forefront of every major humanitarian endeavor in modern times. Last year the U.S. government donated about $15 billion to global humanitarian causes -- almost double the amount of second-place Japan -- and was the source of 60 percent of the world's food aid.

America's reaction to the tsunami aftermath was swift and extraordinary. For the first time in history, America mobilized an aircraft carrier to deliver aid instead of bombs. U.S. and Australian military helicopters were the first to arrive in the disaster zone, bringing much-needed supplies to thousands of desperate survivors. Indeed, after recovering from his initial outrage, Mr. Egeland lauded America's contributions as a "godsend".

For its part, the Bush Administration has pledged hundreds of millions of dollars, and American corporations have chipped in an additional $300 million.

Here in Singapore, evidence of Americans' generosity abounds. Within only a few days of the tsunami, the American Club organized a charity drive to collect everything from clothing to sleeping bags to cash. And here at the American School, Peace Initiative launched a campaign to raise money for the victims. Thanks to some deep pocket-digging on the part of students and faculty, when the campaign ended on Monday, it had exceeded its $50,000 target by an impressive $10,000.

Though America is now scaling-down its direct military involvement in the humanitarian operation, and has relinquished its leadership role to the United Nations, U.S. money will still be hard at work in the region. After all, given that U.S. tax dollars account for a whopping one fifth of the U.N.'s total budget, it’s likely that much of the money being spent in disaster relief will have been made in America.

The victims of the tsunami can also expect a lasting flow of private money from the American people. Annual private donations from U.S. citizens, which total $34 billion, exceed the annual U.N. budget by 10 times. In fact, while Americans give an average of $641 per head to charities every year, the comparative figure for Europeans -- who often boast of their supposed graciousness -- is a paltry $51.

America should be proud of its tremendous and vital contributions to humanitarian causes worldwide, and its response to the tsunami disaster deserves praise rather than derision. America the Stingy? I think not.