Page 353 - Week 02 - Tuesday, 15 February 2005

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materials may threaten the viability of local producers whose products are suddenly more expensive than donated alternatives. Australia’s aid contracts are to be given exclusively to Australian and New Zealand companies and approximately half of the $1 billion that we pledged is in the form of interest-free loans, so it will be coming back to us—boomerang aid.

This pledge needs to be weighed against the more than $1 billion that Indonesia already owes Australia. Prime Minister Howard opposes forgiving the debts owed by tsunami-affected and other low-income countries and has even refused to consider placing a moratorium on debt repayments from tsunami-affected countries. The tsunami disaster reminds us that survival requires resilience at country and community level as well as at the level of the individual. In 2000 the countries of the world agreed upon the millennium goals, which go further than any earlier agreements in setting a number of targets to overcome poverty. To assist in post-tsunami recovery and to reach the millennium goals, aid donors, public and private, should be working with local organisations that know their communities, their needs and how to satisfy them. The people most affected by the tsunami were poor before the event but they are undoubtedly worse off now. How do we assist in a way that builds in resilience?

The development community has long understood that programs devised with women provide the best means of helping families and communities. The Indian Ocean tsunami made no distinction between men and women but it became clear in the weeks after the wave hit that women and children were put particularly at risk. For example, in Sri Lanka, where women were already vulnerable to sexual abuse and trafficking, reports emerged of rape and physical abuse of displaced women and girls. Also, at least 150,000 pregnant women may be facing complications of pregnancy including trauma-induced miscarriage and they need urgent medical and nutritional support, according to the United Nations Population Fund. Their chances of delivering in safe and clean conditions have been jeopardised by damage to health facilities and loss of basic delivery care supplies. In all the societies affected, women are expected to care for the children, the aged and the sick. Consequently, their burden is now increased by the high number of people injured or becoming ill as epidemics develop. They may also need to increase the amount of time they spend collecting water for drinking and agricultural crops.

According to Noeleen Heyzer, the Director of UNIFEM, the United Nations Fund for Women, in two of the worst-hit areas—the province of Aceh in Indonesia and Sri Lanka—the current devastation converges with the complex consequences of decades-long civil war, and in some places, severe poverty. These forces have generated division and deprivation, but they have also led to the emergence of survival systems and neutral aid networks, including among internally displaced and refugee communities, and women have been at the forefront of many of these. So, as the international community organises to provide much-needed assistance, it must prioritise the mobilisation and support of women’s networks that are crucial for emotional, social and economic recovery.

In Aceh, which suffered two-thirds of the total death toll of the disaster, women are renowned for their central role in society and have for years been at the heart of community networks. It is estimated that women comprise up to 70 per cent of Aceh’s population of four million. Through years of conflict, the multiple roles women played came to form the lifeline of their communities. In this province, and elsewhere, women

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