With the death toll now well over one hundred thousand and mounting constantly, this is one of the worst disasters in human history. Not only is it one of the strongest earthquakes ever recorded, at 9.0 on the open-ended Richter Scale (only four in the twentieth century were stronger), but the tsunami that followed in the hours after has caused countless deaths, making it rank with the great disasters of the previous century such as the Tangshan earthquake of 1976 and the Bangladesh monsoon floods of 1970.

(Update 1. Several weeks later the death toll seems to have stabilized around 150 000. Update 2. 19 January, Indonesia has revised its toll to about 170 000, recognizing that almost everyone still missing can be regarded as dead; making the total toll something like 220 000. Update 3. 25 January, Indonesia revises again: 220 000 there, making world total about 280 000.)

It is salutary to recognize that recent genocides -- those in Kampuchea, Rwanda, and East Timor -- still greatly outnumber anything the forces of nature on the surface of the earth can muster.

At 7.58 a.m. local time on 26 December 2004 the geography of the Earth changed. The tectonic plate underlying India jolted forward against the Burma (or Andaman) microplate, where they meet just off the north-west coast of Sumatra. The displacement of the seabed was reported* as many metres up for about 1200 km, with an initial rupture of at least 600 km into the Nicobar Islands spreading northward along the fault up into the Andaman Islands, causing aftershocks.

The huge earthquake under the ocean caused a tsunami, a massive accumulation of water thrown across the ocean. When this volume reaches shallow coastal waters its profile changes: the sea is shallow so the volume has to redistribute itself into gigantic waves breaking onto the shore.

Over several hours in the morning, countries all across the Indian Ocean were devastated. Indonesia, of course, as the closest got it the worst. As I write some eighty thousand to a hundred thousand are dead in Indonesia, mostly in the north of the island of Sumatra, and mostly in the northernmost province of Aceh. Until Boxing Day 2004 there was a vigorous armed rebel movement in Aceh seeking to achieve independence. Now the province is largely destroyed. Government is gone, roads are gone, villages are gone: Aceh has effectively ceased to exist.

The next worst hit was Sri Lanka. Waves came across the Bay of Bengal and hit beaches, villages, tourist destinations, everything. Sri Lanka is currently observing mourning for some twenty thousand or more people. A wave ripped up a train, and there seem to have been some eight hundred killed there, making it incidentally by far the worst railway disaster ever.

At the same time that Sri Lanka was hit so were all the southern states of India, with huge casualties. The waves spread out. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Indian territories in the Bay of Bengal north of Sumatra, have been devastated. The geography of the Nicobars has been permanently changed. There used to be a scientific establishment on Indira Point, southernmost point of India. Helicopter surveys suggest Indira Point no longer exists. No-one knows what has happened to the scientists. For a lot of these places a few helicopters are all that anyone can get out there: the roads are gone, and so are the jetties, and the railways, and the airstrips, and the villages themselves.

The tsunami kept going. The entire country of Maldives, a chain of atolls in the Indian Ocean, has a merely tenuous existence now because of global warming. The tsunami disaster rendered the country's existence even more perilous. The giant waves went as far as the African coast: deaths have been reported in Kenya, Tanzania, and above all on the Somali island of Hafun, off the coast of the Puntland region. The part of Thailand devastated includes the popular resort of Phuket, so there are very large numbers of deaths of Western tourists, especially Swedes; and for some European countries it is their worst peacetime disaster.

The whole world is staggered by the Indian Ocean tsunami diaster. For most of us this is the worst that has happened in living memory. Opportunities to donate to relief are everywhere. In the future, the World Health Organization is worried that deaths from untreated disease and unburied bodies will exceed even the unbelievable death toll directly from the tsunami waves. So many of the affected areas are so far away they cannot be reached, not with all the infrastructure destroyed. The Indonesian death toll could reach half a million.

Obviously this writeup cannot be final. It is changing all the time. It is beyond comprehension.

* See for example http://www.globalsecurity.org/eye/andaman.htm

With the death toll seemingly rising every day and the threat of disease and cholera becoming increasingly more likely, I thought it might be interesting to show just how much in the way of monetary and other forms of assistance is being provided by some of the larger countries in the world to the affected countries. These figures are probably subject to change as the scope of the disaster widens and new dicoveries are made with each passing day. Let’s hope that the consciousness of those countries with the most to give expands in kind. All figures are in USD.


Officially, so far the Aussies have made a pledge of over 810 million over a five year period. About ½ of that figure is in the form of bilateral loans. They’ve also dispensed 350 military personnel, four military helicopters, a troop transport ship a military heal support team and a water purification plant. There was also a team of medical volunteers. From the public sector, another 58 million has been raised.


The Germans have been surprisingly generous. So far the German government has made promises of 674 million. In addition, they are dispatching a mobile hospital to Aceh and a military shipped that carries with it two helicopters, supplies, water treatment equipment and an operating theater. From the public sector, another 130 million has been raised.


The Land of the Rising Sun stepped to the plate and ponied up 500 million in government aid – half of which was immediately released. In addition, 120 emergency workers were dispatched to the affected area’s and to help prevent future occurrences, have offered their know how to help set up a tsunami early warning system in the area.

European Union

Member countries have coughed up about 461 million in reconstruction funds. The total amount donated by EU countries is expected to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 billion.

United States of America

The good ‘ol US of A has so far pledged about 350 million in government funded assistance. In addition, military personnel numbering 12, 600 have also been dispatched to the area. They brought with them 21 ships, 14 planes and more than 90 helicopters. As far as the public goes, the money is still pouring in. So far over 120 million has been raised privately with donations to the Red Cross, Oxfam, Save the Children and the Catholic Relief Services


To date, about 182 million in government donations and another 30 million raised in the private sector.


The Brits have pledged 96 million in government funds. In addition, the fine citizenry has generated another 146 million that the government has promised to match. Two military planes have been dispatched to help deliver needed food and supplies to the area. They have also put in a recommendation to the G8 that all debt repayments owed from the affected nations be frozen.


The Italians have come to the with table with 95 million in government funds. Another 20 million was raised privately. To help identify bodies, a team of forensic experts was sent to Thailand.


The Swedish government has pledged 80 million in government donations. There were also two national telethons broadcast in the country that raised another 60 million in private funds.


The Danish government has pledged 75 million. They have also sent a field hospital and a ship.


The Spanish government has pledged 68 million towards relief. In addition, a medical team has been dispatched to Sri Lanka


The French government has pledged 66 million, the citizens have raised another 49 million. They too have dispatched a medical team to Sri Lanka.


The Canucks have come up with 66 million in government funds. Another 29 to 30 million is expected from private donations. They have announced a moratorium on debt repayments from the affected countries. The Canadians also deployed a highly specialized unit known as the Disaster Assistance Response Team to Sri Lanka.


The Chinese government has pledged upwards of 63 million. A little under 2 million has been raised in the private sector.

South Korea

The South Korean government has pledged 50 million. According to their ministry, another 13 million has been raised privately.


The government of the Netherlands has pledged 34 million. The citizens have raised another 35 million. An identification team has been sent to Thailand.


No stranger to disasters (see Bhopal disaster) the Indian military is involved in its largest relief operation in its history. Over 16,000 troops, 32 naval vessels, 41 aircraft and 16 helicopters have joined the relief effort. Included were numerous teams of medical staff and a mobile hospital. The Indian Air Force has so far air lifted in 10,000 tons of supplies.

The Russian town of Beslan

In perhaps one of the most touching gestures, the Russian town of Beslan which played host to a massacre of its schoolchildren last year, pledged 1 million rubles (about 36 thousand) from a fund set up for its own victims.

Other institutions such as The World Bank and the Asian Bank of Development have opened up the coffers and pledged over more than another 500 million.

Random thoughts

On a personal note, I can’t even begin to fathom the amount of physical damage that was done to those parts of the world that were hit by the tsunami. The extent of the damage is truly mind boggling. The money being raised is of course a good thing. However, unless the logistics involved in setting up a distribution chain to get supplies and medical attention to those in need are established, much of it will be for naught.


Many thanks to Noung for pointing out the inaccuracies and omissions in my first pass at this w/u as well as to Footprints for giving me pause to think about a rather candid statement that was also included in the original version.

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