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Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Are we suffering from compassion fatigue?
It appears as if our nation is suffering from “compassion fatigue” (a jargon coined by the United Nations and widely used during the 80s when Thailand was overwhelmed with Indochinese refugees).
Initial reactions to the devastating earthquake in Haiti by the Thai media and the Thai government were, at best, a complete lack of sensitivity to the tragic event. Reporters asked Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva about what measures the government had to help Thai nationals living in Haiti. The premier’s response was that the Foreign Ministry was checking if there were any Thais there and assured that they would be helped. No mention whatsoever of the tragedy and the fate of the Haitians although at the time details about the earthquake were sketchy but it was estimated that the death toll might be in the range of several hundreds.
Even a few days afterward, there was not a word of condolence from the government to show our sympathy. It was quite a pity that the Royal Household was the first to send a letter of condolence to Haiti.
Haiti might be physically so far away for most of us. But in today’s cyberworld and almost real-time TV coverage, Haiti is just at our fingertips. Just a click of the mouse or a press on the button of a remote control of a television set, we will be able to get the latest information and images of the disaster and the human sufferings.
But as the world was mobilizing relief aids and rescue teams to be rushed to the poor nation although initial financial donations pledged by the rich western nations were disappointingly paltry, it was still quiet on the Thai side. It seems as if the government, the Foreign Ministry in particular, has no idea of how to respond in such a dire situation. Or, in other words, they may be totally insensitive to the event and the immense human sufferings.
Have they all forgotten the help extended by many countries to Thailand in the immediate aftermath of tsunami disaster in December 2004? In particular, the selfless dedication of many young men and women of various nationalities who instinctively volunteered to help out the victims without any request from the government.
Yes, we are not a rich country. But we are not poor either and can afford to extend a helping hand as a responsible member of the world community in a much better and more responsible fashion as we did initially. I was not surprised why Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya was criticized for the ministry’s dismal performance in related to the Haiti disaster and also why his objection of PM’s Office Minister Veerachai Virameteekul’s role in helping the Foreign Ministry in handling the relief aid to Haiti was rejected by the prime minister.
The Foreign Ministry’s pledge of US$ 20,000 aid to Haiti is a chicken’s feed amount. Even if the ministry could defend that it was authorized to use only that much money, it should have better ideas or initiatives on how Thailand could play a constructive role in this event to boost its image in the international community.
Better late than never, the government, at the cabinet’s meeting on Tuesday, decided to increase humanitarian aid to Haiti to US$100,000 and to send at least 20,000 tonnes of rice to help the earthquake victims.
Moreover, a campaign is being launched for Thais to make financial donations to help out the victims. Any amount is welcome. This is indeed a welcoming move and all Thais who can afford some help should participate in this noble endeavour. We never know whether or when we may face the same natural disaster.
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