Must make sure aid doesn't stop

WE stood, or in some cases sat, still and silent around The Evening Star newsroom for a full three minutes. It seems quite a long time, doesn't it, when you put your life on pause?It did give me time to ponder, though.

WE stood, or in some cases sat, still and silent around The Evening Star newsroom for a full three minutes. It seems quite a long time, doesn't it, when you put your life on pause?

It did give me time to ponder, though.

Like, what possible good can it do all the devastated victims of the Boxing Day tsunami that the people of Britain spent three minutes doing nothing?

Was it, perhaps, good for our own souls?

Or was it, as one cynic suggested, simply a convenient - and free - way of pretending to care?

In fact, of course, the people of Britain do care. This has been heartwarmingly shown by the remarkable response of those who in just a few days had raised more cash than the government to help the surviving tsunami victims.

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Tragic as they are, the stories of the few British victims have seemed insignificant alongside the sheer scale of death and suffering wreaked among those for whom the areas around the Indian Ocean were home.

The surviving Westerners who were there on holiday when the giant wave struck can return to an unaffected world. For the Indonesians, Sri Lankans and others whose homes have been lost, there is nothing to return to. Reality has changed forever.

One of the most poignant stories to have emerged in this horrific fortnight was of the tribal people of the remote Andaman islands.

It was feared the wave might have wiped them out entirely. In fact, when a rescue helicopter went to find out, it was attacked by forest-dwellers armed with bows and spears.

One can only imagine what those people - disconnected as they are from the “modern” world most of us inhabit - suffered from the tsunami.

And one can only imagine how they might have connected the appearance of such an extraordinary thing as a helicopter with the stunning event that preceded it.

It might well have seemed to them as it would to us if our world were to come under attack from space aliens.

The concept of international aid may not be one they could understand. And if it came, that too would change their world as thoroughly as the tsunami itself - perhaps more thoroughly.

Around the rest of the ocean rim, the horror of so much death and destruction can only fill one with awe.

For the first time in my life, my first emotional reaction was that I wanted to go there and help.

In reality, what could I, ignorant, unfit and unprepared as I am, hope to do but get in the way?

Yet many, many helpers are needed - and for those who have gone, the trauma of what they must see and do becomes a serious problem in itself. Even for those who have confronted death on a grand scale elsewhere.

These are the shocking truths that have made Britain dig deep in its collective pocket. For most of us, it's the only thing we can do.

Making sure our cash buys true relief for those who need it is beyond you and me.

We must make sure, though, as well as we can that six months, a year, five years from now the right help continues to be given and to get through.

Not simple handouts that ultimately impoverish those who receive them, but help reclaiming the farmland ruined by salt water, rebuilding the fishing boats and the coastal communities, returning to something like the reality that existed before Boxing Day.

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