|Tsunami Disaster: When the
With an ever-climbing death toll, extraordinary
public outpouring and continuing uncertainty surrounding the
effectiveness of a massive international relief effort,
Western’s academic and administrative experts stepped forward
to offer some perspective with expert commentary over the past
Ted Garrard, Western's
Vice-President (External), is Chair of the Canadian Centre for
The outpouring of support from Canadians
has been extraordinary, perhaps the most generous response by
the Canadian public to any appeal in such a short period of
The challenges that charities face in accepting
this outpouring of support have been significant as their
phone lines and web sites have been clogged.
therefore need to be realistic about when they will get their
tax receipts and recognize that there will be costs to the
charity for being able to process their donations.
Donors also need to be realistic about when the
donations they have given will get to the people in need. Each
of the charities has to work through international aid
organizations and governments to make sure the funds are
directed where they will be needed the most.
concern from some groups that this outpouring of support to
tsunami relief will impact some other charities and hopefully
this will not be the case.
I hope people will see the
tsunami relief as a one time appeal and continue to donate to
their traditional charities that rely on their support.
Slobodan Simonovic is Chair in
Engineering at the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction
and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
The recent tragic disaster in south Asia has proved
that everyone is vulnerable and that disasters of high
magnitude are not reserved only for the places where they have
been experienced in the past.
It is very clear that better
understanding is the only way to deal with these extreme
Under better preparedness, I include
predicting events, warning people in time and providing
In many cases the capacity of
the regions is not sufficient and an integrated cooperative
effort of multiple countries, regions and even the United
Nations is required. This is the main thrust of the
International Flood Initiative that I will be presenting in
Kobe, Japan, January 10-22.
At the moment, help is
urgently required to deal with the physical and human side of
Tomorrow, different help will be needed
– capacity building, better technical knowledge, transfer of
technology, all aimed at better preparedness and timely
The Institute for Catastrophic Loss
Reduction and our expertise, together with results of the
research conducted under our support, could be of great help.
David Spencer is Professor of information
& media studies, who specializes in the history of media.
After September 11, the media was criticized for
acting as a cheerleader for Bush's policies. In the case of
the tsunami, we're seeing media becoming part of the solution.
It shows the power of the different forms of media, especially
TV in this case, to touch people and raise awareness of the
tragedy and how they can help.
I recently read a
letter to the editor in one of Canada's national newspapers
thanking the media for the extensive coverage of the tsunami
Journalists are not accustomed to such
Western graduate Stephen Poloz is
Senior Vice-President and Chief Economist of Export
According to a consensus of
economists, growth in the region should be reduced by only a
few tenths of a percentage point, less than during the SARS
crisis, for example.
While these figures are
reassuring, they should be interpreted cautiously, for a
couple of reasons. First, economists’ calculations are based
on assumptions about the damage.
They take the
contribution to a country’s GDP of the affected region (a
fact) and combine it with an estimate of that region’s lost
GDP (a guess – an educated guess, to be sure, but a guess
To illustrate, the southern region of
Thailand contributes about 10 per cent of Thailand’s GDP.
Hypothetically, then, if 15-20 per cent of southern Thailand’s
annual GDP were lost, then 1.5-2.0 per cent of Thailand’s
annual GDP would be lost – but we can only guess at the 15-20
per cent, for now.
Second, the shock itself is still
increasing in both magnitude and dimension. On the magnitude
of the shock, recall that the early reports estimated that
there were as few as 12,000 deaths.
Today, that number
is over 150,000 and still rising.
If the economic
impact is related to the number of deaths, then it is still
growing. With regard to the dimensionality of the shock,
relief agencies are now focusing on the risk of a massive
outbreak of disease.
If this risk were realised, the
economic disruption would be greater than current estimates –
a whole new shock could be on the horizon.
All to say
that we should not take too much comfort from these early
estimates of the economic fallout. But there are positives,
too. The level of aid is now in excess of $3 billion and still
Some of this money will go to immediate
everyday needs. However, the bulk will be available for the
bigger clean-up and rebuilding. Rebuilding means investment,
and the quickest way to get an economy up and moving again is
an injection of new investment, particularly in
Canada has risen to the occasion in
terms of aid, not surprisingly. Beyond the usual outpouring of
support for people in trouble, Canada has strong cultural
linkages to the region, and significant business interests,
Although our goods exports to the affected
countries (India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Sri Lanka and
Thailand) are only about $2.2 billion per year, our imports
from the region are about $6.6 billion.
Of this, we
estimate that some 15-20 per cent represents intermediate
goods – in other words, various companies in the region are
embedded in Canadian companies’ global supply chains. Canadian
companies have over $7 billion in assets on the ground in
those countries, with about three-quarters of that total in
Indonesia. So far, these interests look secure.
bottom line? The Asian earthquake and tsunami were disasters
of the first order. The human costs have been enormous and are
still growing. Although early estimates of the economic costs
look reassuring, we should at least be prepared for the risk
of a worse outcome.