How can religious people explain something like this? asks Martin Kettle in the Guardian. How can a God exist that can allow such things to happen?

Over the coming days, it will doubtless be revealed that many thousands more have died as a result of the Asian tsunami – after the flood waters have subsided, disease will come to finish off some of the weakest, poorest people on the planet. No explanation that includes deities, axes of evil, fallen men or infidels can possibly provide any explanation for what has happened – this is just tectonic plates shifting beneath the sea, and woe betide you if you’re anywhere near by when it happens, be you Hindu, Muslim, or Buddhist.

My trip to India and the Aidcamp will still be going ahead, though all of the Aidcamps volunteers have been instructed to make totally sure that they have cholera vaccinations, malaria prophylaxis, and the means to purify water. I was looking forward to visiting some of the fishing villages and quieter areas around the South of India – but obviously many of them have now been destroyed, and the closest I’ll be going to any of the disaster areas will be if the group offered any help or went to view the damage.

Spokesmen and ambassadors from the affected countries were on BBC News today, one in particular saying that India was ‘looking after itself’, and not in as much need as Sri Lanka or Indonesia. This doesn’t seem to be the situation according to SCAD (Social Change and Development), one of the charities that works in association with Aidcamps. I got an update today from the charity in India:

Cletus [Babu, founder of the charity] and a team of 40 to 50 SCAD staff are working in a block of 12 villages which are among the worst hit in the Kanyakumari area at the southernmost tip of India. The situation is very bad here as the full force of the waves hit the area with several after shock waves.

Cletus estimates that there is a total population of 15 to 17,000 people in these 12 villages of which between two and three thousand are known to be dead and about the same number are thought to be missing. It looks like at least 10% of the local population is dead and this figure is likely to rise substantially.

The Indian government have apparently promised an immediate grant of Rs2,000 per family (25 pounds) and a grant of 1Lakh for every person killed (1,200 pounds). However it will take a long time for this to be paid – and there is some scepticism as to whether that money will ever be paid. If the government are suggesting that they don’t need help, this doesn’t seem to be the case on the ground – when commentaries and news programmes identify lack of communications as one of the most serious problems, that probably doesn’t just apply to whether the phones work – it probably also means that thousands of people won’t get more help if their governments don’t ask for it.

The US has offered an initial $15 million in aid, a fraction of the cost of a Stealth bomber (a snip at $1.26 billion), and nothing compared to what they’re spending in Iraq (approximately $50 billion a year). Mind you, it’s understandable, the US economy is buggered after all, and there’s no oil in the Indian Ocean.

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