Villagers are trying to rebuild their lives and their livelihoods, whilst awaiting crucial government decisions on the allocation of land for permanent accommodation.
The response of Freemasons under the United Grand Lodge of England to the global catastrophe of the Asian Tsunami of 26 December, 2004 has been unprecedented.
As of the end of May, Lodges and individual Masons have donated more than £725,000 to the Relief Chest established by the Grand Charity immediately following the disaster. This sum is in addition to many donations made by Provinces, Lodges and individuals directly to the Red Cross, the Disaster Emergency Committee and to other charities.
In addition, Emergency Grants were made by the President of the Grand Charity to the Red Cross (£100,000) and to the Districts of Sri Lanka (£25,000) and Madras (£10,000).
The destruction and devastation of the Tsunami to the lives and livelihoods of millions of people across a wide geographic region of countries, bounded by the Indian Ocean, is almost incomprehensible. The statistics of the disaster, with approximately 300,000 dead and an estimated reconstruction cost of US$12 billion, are staggering.
Their impact is made real by the countless stories of grief and despair suffered by the men, women and children who lost loved ones, homes and livelihoods in the disaster.
In the first four months following the disaster, the focus of international aid has been on bringing immediate relief to the stricken communities, identifying and burying the dead, providing food, temporary shelter and clothing for survivors, and preventing the spread of disease by ensuring fresh drinking water, medical supplies and basic sanitation facilities.
This phase is now ending and the attention is turning to the rebuilding of permanent communities, with a sustainable economic base. With such devastation, it should be easy to help the victims. Not necessarily so. The link between a donation and the money actually helping those who need it most is sometimes tenuous. The press reports of corruption, mismanagement and inefficiency may be exaggerated, but there are real issues of competence, accountability and control for donors.
What a responsibility, then, for the Council of the Grand Charity to decide
how the money that the Craft has given through the Relief Chest should be used. Due diligence requires first-hand review,
so a team from the Grand Charity visited Thailand and Southern India for five days
at the end of April. The devastation of the Tsunami disaster, even four months after
the tidal wave engulfed the coast, was overwhelming. Although temporary accommodation has been constructed
and the chaotic residue deposited by the receding wave has been made orderly,
the signs of destruction are everywhere.
The once green productive fields are now barren soil, covered by a layer of sand. All that remains of the cashew nut crop that should have been ripe for harvest were a
few tangled tree trunks. Acres of farmland, inundated by salt water, remain unusable until the desalination process can be completed and the layers of sand removed
Damaged boats litter the coastline and once busy ports are deserted. Fishermen await the new boats promised by government. Those few homes still standing in the areas hit by the waves have been damaged, in most cases beyond repair.
The evidence of the effect of the disaster on those who survived is heartbreaking. Children who lost parents have been adopted by their extended families, yet their grief is only just beginning to be addressed by the counselling provided by the charities.
The international efforts are giving considerable attention to local customs
and attitudes, as an example, it is now
clear that orphans are integrated into their broader family, instead of being cared for within an institution. Facts such as this
have a bearing on the manner in which
help will be provided.
Much remains to be done for those whose lives were shattered on 26 December. The dedication and commitment of international charities, working in conjunction with local partners, has already brought much needed relief for the victims. Additional voluntary donations are needed for the next phase of redevelopment.
The Grand Charity is reviewing requests for longer-term support, and the remarkable generosity of the Craft, through its donations to the Tsunami Relief Chest, will make a vital contribution for these efforts.
Laura Chapman is chief executive
of the Grand Charity
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