[FOUNTAIN]Tsunami aid flips Korea’s stingy image

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[FOUNTAIN]Tsunami aid flips Korea’s stingy image

On the last day of 2004 in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo, President Chandrika Kumaratunga appeared in front of 100 diplomats to explain the damage and losses from the tsunami. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse and Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar accompanied the president. Even for a small nation such as Sri Lanka, it was a rare occasion that the president and the prime minister met with the diplomats at the same time.
The damage from the tsunami was serious. Tourism makes up 20 percent of Sri Lanka’s gross national product, and nearly half of the tourism-related facilities were destroyed by the tsunami. The restoration is expected to take four to five years.
About 15 percent of its citizens are engaged in coastal fishery. Ten of the 12 major ports that constitute the industry were destroyed by the tsunami. Almost 80 percent of the fishing boats have been destroyed, and over 10,000 fishermen have been killed. Just as we have seen in the movie, “Deep Impact,” sea water reached 5 kilometers (3 miles) inland in the northern part of Sri Lanka, and the salinity has made the soil infertile. The diplomats immediately relayed the tragic story.
Officials from Sri Lanka actively informed the public of the damage, and other countries that have not yet disclosed statistics might have suffered more.
Donations and relief efforts from around the world are surging to the region. Japan started with $15 million and quickly raised the contribution to $20 million then $30 million and then to $500 million.
China’s donation jumped from $2.6 million to $66 million. The United States originally committed $15 million dollars, and raised the contribution to $35 million and then to $350 million. The United Nations’ goal was $1 billion, and the world has already promised over $2 billion to help the region.
Korea used to be stingy about contributions to the international community, but we have made a noticeable change. The donation amount increased from $600,000 to $5 million and then to $50 million. The world is watching an unprecedented humanitarian drama amidst a global catastrophe. Last year was stained with various conflicts around the world, but we have hope that 2005 will be a year of compassionate humanitarianism.

by Ahn Sung-kyoo

The writer is a political news deputy editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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