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11 January 2005

S2M-2216 South Asia Earthquake and Tsunami

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 12 January 2005

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:15]

… … …

South Asia Earthquake and Tsunami

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S2M-2216, in the name of Rosie Kane, on the earthquake and tsunami which hit the coasts of south Asia on boxing day, 2004.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament is horrified by the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami which hit southern Asia and parts of Africa on Boxing Day, 2004; mourns the enormous loss of lives from Malaysia to Somalia, particularly in Indonesia and Sri Lanka, more than half of whom are expected to be children; congratulates NGOs like Oxfam, the Red Cross, the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund and others for their instant and courageous response; is concerned that this region did not have the benefit of an early warning system, despite the fact that it sits on a known fault line; is concerned at the initial level of aid offered by the UK Government and believes that the current promised aid is inadequate and should be increased to meet the needs of the entire region; encourages everyone in Scotland to help in any way they can, commensurate with their means, and considers that the Scottish Executive and those in power should set an example above and beyond the support of the Scottish people to ensure that Scotland sends a clear message of support in both words and deeds.

… … …

17:25

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): We will all agree that although the loss of a single person diminishes us all, the loss of hundreds of thousands diminishes our whole world. Although the death of one person is a disaster for the people who are intimately touched by that loss, the deaths of so many so quickly, and by a natural disaster, tugs at a world that arrogantly defines itself as civilised. Some comparisons will illustrate that point.

We remember the blitz during the last world war, but it killed only a quarter of the number of people who have died in the tsunami. We shiver at the recollection of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but the bombs there killed only half the number who were killed three weeks ago. If our response to this natural event is not at least of a scale that is similar to that of the remembrance and continuing sorrow that is associated with those man-made events, we will demean all humanity.

The measure of our humanity rests in the scale and appropriateness of our response now. Impressive deliveries of food and water have tackled short-term need. Deliveries of generators, hospital infrastructure and water-purification plants have started to rebuild vital infrastructure. When money—that engine of change and support—is spent directly in the affected areas whenever possible, it can start the economic recovery that must follow such disasters.
Fundamentally, however, we must equip the people who will continue to live on Asian shores with the tools, the skills and the capital that will sustain their long-term future.

Over the past 30 years, I have visited many of the affected countries, including Malaysia, Indonesia, Burma, Thailand, India and Kenya. Based on that experience, I will make one extremely important point: we must not imagine in our response that one size will fit all. Even before the tsunami impacted in different ways on each of those countries and on others that I have not visited, thereby creating differing support needs, those countries were extremely different in terms of their cultures, peoples, languages, beliefs and development. The best people to judge the need of people in those countries are the ordinary people who live in those countries and who can work together to decide what their needs are in relation to their local circumstances.

Some countries in the area have bureaucracies and institutions that are able to identify and articulate their people's needs. Others, however, are not so fortunate. Indonesia has particular issues—it is a country that is in many ways an accidental relic of an imperial past. It has diverse geography and peoples who have diverse aspirations, many of whom feel justified antipathy towards their Government, which oppresses rather than supports them. In 1978, I visited Burma. Then, I could fly only into Rangoon because the Government controlled none of the border regions. I was allowed only 48 hours there alone. The Government was oppressing all of its peoples and I had to stay in the only working hotel in the country, behind outward-facing tanks. Little has changed; if anything, the situation has become worse.

We must hope that the door that has been opened by this natural disaster not only lets in immediate aid but leads to the empowerment of people. From this tragedy must come long-term progress.

17:29

Stewart Stevenson
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