TORONTO: The Asian Tsunami, which struck suddenly on December 26, 2004, has already caused unimaginable tremendous loss. The actual death toll and number of missing will never ever be known. The cruel sea in its madness swallowed thousands in a flash, dodging even the best and latest technology. The total of bodies and parts collected so far has already crossed over 150,000 and nearing 200,000. The counting continues. Over 70 per cent of those killed are Muslims. The Muslim World must wake up and help the humanity in a generous way.

 The figures before us till January 4, 2005, according to BBC, are Indonesia (over 100,000), Sri Lanka (over 30,000), India (including Andaman and Nicobar) (over 10,000), Thailand (over 7,000 with half of them being foreign tourists from 36 countries). The other countries battered and affected are Somalia, Maldives, Seychelles, Bangladesh, Burma, Malaysia, Tanzania and Kenya. This is indeed a very severe blow to the humanity. The dangers ahead are more serious and extremely difficult to handle. Only a purely humanitarian approach can help the victims, people and the affected nations.

MOST IMPORTANT PRIORITY: Billions of dollars of aid have been pledged and millions have started to come in various shapes. The crises need to be dealt in many ways and at many levels. It will take several years to recover and reconstruct the battered areas, the UN says at least ten years. It is not the time to think anything else except to help in any way and every way all people affected by the crises and the grave situation.  If we dont act sincerely, practically and immediately, we will not be able to save lives of millions of others, who are exposed to all sorts of diseases and dangers and who are looking towards us for help. They need help desperately.

The nature of the grave problem is such that hundreds are already dying due to non-availability of clean water, food, medicines and lack of reach and attention, despite best efforts of the people and governments. One of the most important priorities now is to stop the spread of fatal diseases including typhoid, cholera and pneumonia.

      The psychological trauma is also playing havoc, affecting children the most.  Their fear, confusion and desperation are unimaginable. They have seen enormous waves wash away their worlds. There have also been reports of sexual abuse of children in the refugee camps. Trafficking has also been reported.

      In India, relief agencies have expressed apprehension that orphans are being split among relatives eager to receive the money promised for Tsunami survivors.  In Sri Lanka, 40 per cent of the known dead are children. The children face the additional threat of plastic landmines dislodge by the tidal waves. In Aceh, Indonesia, the worst affected area in the region of crisis, children are dying of pneumonia.

STILL HOPEFUL: The state of mind of the parents is such that they still believe that their kids are alive and the sea will return them one day. They dont want to accept that their children are dead. Still hopeful, they go to the shore to gaze at the sea.

The UNICEF is preparing a national programme to match orphans with grieving parents. The UN estimates about 150,000 pregnant women in the Tsunami hit areas who need immediate attention and help. 

In Nicobar Island in India, bodies were not found strewn on the land as the sea washed most of them away. Many of them were found buried in sand on neighbouring islands. Only very few people were left on the island. Some of the islands were completely submerged and no one survived there. The Katchall Island, with over 3,000 people, simply vanished and was no longer visible from the air.

The lighthouse at Indira Point, Indias last seaport in the east, is almost fully submerged. The sea has swallowed the area around it and no one could have survived. The place is less than 200 km from Sumatra, Indonesia, the first place to have been hit.

The devastation in Car Nicobar, Indias largest airbase in the archipelago, is complete. The airbase will have to be built from the scratch. Over 100 airmen and officers and their families just perished. The latest SU-30 fighters and bombers were to have been deployed from this month as the front line of Indian air power in the South East Asia. Even the villages around the airbase, on higher ground, have been destroyed. Local Nicobarese tribesmen suffered the most. They have lost everything. Entire settlements have been completely wiped out. Loss of human lives could be imagined.

 NUCLEAR INSTALLATIONS: India refused foreign help. The people, particularly those affected and need help badly and timely, severely criticized this decision of the government. Another matter of serious concern is the nuclear installations situated near the sea in the hit area. The question arising and disturbing the people is how they could have escaped the cruel and powerful enormous waves, which battered and shattered everything in its way.

The government is trying to convince them that no harm has been caused and there is nothing to fear, but this is not enough. Fears are real and a serious threat to the people, who still remember the Chernobyl disaster and its horrible consequences. Lets hope and pray that the fears remain baseless and people safe.

CANADIANS GENEROUS: The Canadians are never behind in any such situation. They are always very generous, concerned and on the front. The aid has been doubled to $80 million, with more to come. Disaster Assistance Relief Team (DART) put into action. Pledge made for long-term support for reconstruction.

On January 3, 2005, Prime Minister Paul Martin visited the Cedarwood Primary School in Toronto and met children who have families in the Tsunami hit areas.  He spent ninety minutes with them.

Later, he went to Delta Hotel, met community representatives and discussed various issues with them. He was praised for taking the community representatives into confidence and showing deep interest in the affected region.

Immediately after meeting the community leaders, he met media people and explained to them about the steps being taken by the government in this connection. The focus was mainly on Sri Lanka. It was felt that Indonesia, the worst hit country, and other areas were being ignored.

Paul Martin said he contacted the President of Sri Lanka and discussed the situation and help in this connection. The Canadian High Commission has been instructed to make sure that the aid reaches the affected people. The military too has assured us that the aid will reach the people in the conflict zone. The situation will be closely monitored to ensure equitable distribution without hindrances, he said.

Regarding delay caused in aid giving, he said the delay was caused due to the massive devastation in the hit areas. It was difficult to reach there or else we would have gone earlier. However, the situation was closely studied, he added.

He said that if compared with other countries we have done very well but there has to be a quicker and effective way of helping. 

When his attention was drawn as to why the countries were not alerted despite the US having prior knowledge of the Asian Tsunami, he said now the world has learnt a serious lesson and the system to alert against Tsunami has to be put in place.

 With Canada taking special interest in Sri Lanka and United States in Indonesia, it seemed that the regions were divided. It was felt that the United States was trying to exploit the situation and show to the world that it was not against Muslims and ready to help them. It was also felt that the US would not like Canadians to join them in Indonesia or areas of their interest. Thats why probably Canada was avoiding Indonesia. However, Paul Martin has made it clear that for Canadians all are equal and the issue would be tackled purely on humanitarian basis and distribution on equality basis.

 The image of US has been badly tarnished in the Muslim World after invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and campaign against Muslims. Whatever the thinking, opinions and comments may be, the US is playing a great role and needs to be praised. 

Shahid Hashmi, Chairman, Canpak Chamber of Commerce, and myself were the only two who represented the Pakistani community. Hameeduddin of Awaz was also present. The absence of mainstream Pakistani media, as usual, was badly felt. Shahid Hashmi asked Paul Martin the two most important questions regarding delay in informing the affected countries despite prior knowledge and role of Canada in the presence of United States in Indonesia and how Canada can contribute in this worst affected part and other areas. Paul Martin explained in detail Canadas role and policies.

 Journalists including of City Pulse and Listen Up surrounded Shahid Hashmi afterwards and took his interview. He said he and his family cancelled the New Year celebration and contacted community members to come forward and extend all possible help. Hameeduddin was also interviewed. The interest of the community was made felt.