Reflections on the victims of the Tsunami and Iraq

Jan 19 2005

Reflections on the Tsunami

David Ives *

The recent tsunami that hit South East Asia has deservedly grabbed international attention. At last count, around 155,000 people have died with a high percentage of those deaths being children. Many thousands more are still missing or injured with economic damages into the billions, making it one of the worse disasters ever in recent history. Indonesia estimates that 100,000 people have died in their country alone and there are myriad tales of woe throughout the region that should tear at the heart of anyone who has even the smallest amount of compassion.

However, I cannot help but also think about the civilian death toll in Iraq. A recent study by the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health estimates that 100,000 civilians have died since the Iraq War began. And according to Dr. Gilbert Burnham, a member of the research team that conducted the study, this number is conservatively estimated and the research does not include casualties caused by the recent battle in Falluja. In fact, what do we know about what has happened to the population of Falluja, their homes, and their livelihoods when they were forced to leave in the face of the coming battle in their community? And what is being done to help them rebuild their city let alone the thousands of buildings and homes that have been damaged throughout Iraq and to help the thousands of families who have lost loved ones in Iraq?

So far, the effect of the war on civilians in Iraq has not been deemed important enough for the U.S. government to pay much attention to in terms of documentation nor have the U.S. media focused much on their plight. I can only surmise why this might be as losing 100,000 people, mostly women and children, in a country like Iraq with a total population much smaller than Indonesia should be noticeable. Perhaps a close analysis of the causes of civilian deaths might be uncomfortable to acknowledge for the U.S. since prior to the war most Iraqis died from natural causes rather than physical violence that began with the United States invasion of Iraq. It might also be because the civilians who have died in Iraq have not died in a large, single, cataclysmic event that seems necessary to qualify as a disaster, thereby attracting the world’s attention. And of course, it might be just too dangerous for the necessary attention to be paid to what civilians need when both the members of the media and soldiers alike fear for their lives anywhere they go in Iraq.

But nevertheless, a disaster for the civilian population in Iraq has occurred and the overall loss of life is of a similar magnitude to the loss of life in Southeast Asia. Both places are deserving of the same kinds of help and attention. However, I fear that Iraqis will be waiting for a long time for aid since it was not a tsunami that killed thousands of people in a few hours, but rather an ongoing wave of violence that has yet to recede.

*Executive Director
Albert Schweitzer Institute
Adjunct Professor of International Business, Philosophy, and Latin
American Studies
Quinnipiac University

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