Recovery will not be easy for Tsunami victims

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 7, 2005

Howard Dean/Guest Columnist

One week ago, a devastating tsunami changed the lives of millions of people in a matter of minutes. With no warning, waves as high as 50 feet suddenly swooped in on small fishing villages, populated islands and resort towns throughout Southeast Asia. Within minutes, approximately 150,000 people died, millions lost their homes and many more are still missing. The pictures and videos we have seen over the past week look like something out of a movie, like The Day After Tomorrow – entire homes, cars, and even big buses flowing down fast moving rivers and scared children clinging onto stationary objects, so they would not be swept away with the strong currents of water.

The scope of the loss of loved ones, precious belongings and shelter is something that is unimaginable. The estimates of damage are initially in the billions of dollars and it will take years, if not decades, for people in these developing nations to recover from this disaster – both mentally and physically.

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But now the survivors who are still in shock must focus on rescue and relief efforts over the next few weeks. They need very specific supplies like clean water, medicine, blankets and temporary shelter. Without proper medical supplies and clean water, disease such as cholera and typhoid will spread and the death toll from this disaster will continue to rise.

After the initial phase of the relief effort is complete, the reconstruction phase will begin – entire roads, buildings, markets and homes have been destroyed and will be rebuilt. This is not a process that happens overnight or even in a few months, it takes years and it also takes a lot of money. Fortunately, relief supplies from governments around the world have already started to pour in, but it is going to take more than just governmental assistance to help.

Although we live tens of thousands of miles away, there is something each of us can do to make a difference immediately. There are many organizations that accept and need cash donations to provide relief items to people that are injured, have lost their homes and jobs, and are left with nothing because of this disaster. These organizations, like CARE and UNICEF know exactly what is needed to recover after disasters like this. For a list of organizations you can donate money to that are involved in the relief and reconstruction efforts, please visit This organization, InterAction, is a coalition of more than 160 U.S.-based private relief, international development and refugee assistance organizations.

Although your first reaction might be to donate your own items, like clothes and canned goods, this is not as helpful as you might think for several reasons: the people working on the ground know exactly what is needed and can buy it immediately in the region; it takes a lot of money, staff and time to ship the items; and if the goods are bought in country, it will help revitalize the economy in these devastated communities. Every little bit helps, but money is what is going to make the most difference right now.

Although we are many, many miles away – our support can make a tremendous difference to people and families on the other side of the globe. A disaster like this transcends politics and reminds us of how we are connected to all people, cultures and governments around the world.

Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont, is the founder of Democracy for America, a grassroots organization that supports socially progressive and fiscally responsible political candidates. Email Howard Dean at