The AP now reports that new estimates of deaths in Sumatra has pushed the aggregate death toll from the massive Asian tsunamis to over 114,000, expanding one of the worst natural disasters of all time:
The death toll from last weekend’s earthquake-tsunami catastrophe rose to more than 114,000 on Thursday as Indonesia uncovered more and more dead from ravaged Sumatra island, where pilots dropped food to remote villages still unreachable by rescue workers. A false alarm that new killer waves were about to hit sparked panic in India, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
The increase came after Indonesia reported nearly 28,000 newly confirmed dead in Sumatra, which was closest to the epicenter of last weekend’s massive earthquake and was overwhelmed by the tsunami that followed. Some 60 percent of Banda Aceh, the main city in northern Sumatra was destroyed, the U.N. children’s agency estimated, and 115 miles of the island’s northwest coast – lined with villages – was inundated.
Indonesia, with around 80,000 dead, was the worst hit, followed by Sri Lanka, India and Thailand. The total across 12 nations in southern Asia and East Africa was likely to rise, with thousands still missing and fears that disease could bring a new wave of deaths.
The tsunamis caused massive damage to sewage systems, spilling raw sewage into water systems and in the general flooding. Rescue workers and aid agencies fear that the dysentery caused by this may double or triple current casualty estimates, not to mention other diseases such as typhoid or e. Coli outbreaks. The corpses lining the streets under the hot tropical sun will only make the disease worse, and right now fuel supplies have run so low even ambulances have to ration gasoline.
While we may not necessarily be looking at a “lost generation” in the Indian Ocean area, the nations will take years if not decades to recover, economically and socially, by the devastation. The West needs to step up and assist as much as possible in order to prevent a massive destabilization of the social and political order. This may be most important in Indonesia, a rare Islamic democracy that has already been pressured by Islamists to institute shari’a as a legal code and move towards a Taliban-like government. Indonesians had thus far resisted the pressure. With the devastation now experienced by the Indonesians, groups like Hamas have an opening to move in and provide assistance — and gain a huge political advantage from it.
We’ve argued about the nature of Western stinginess the past couple of days. The West needs to comprehend the nature of this disaster and how it can be compounded exponentially by the war on terror, and approach the rescue efforts as part of our combat strategy.