- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 25, 2005

Tsunami repair slow

It took just a few hours for the tsunami in the Indian Ocean to wash away a million jobs, hundreds of thousands of homes and at least 240,000 lives.

But it will take at least a decade to rebuild the shattered communities, said the U.N. coordinator of the reconstruction effort, who counsels patience and planning.

“Recovery is something that requires a careful, disciplined, sustained engagement,” said Eric Schwartz, the U.N. deputy special envoy for tsunami relief, nine months after the Dec. 26 disaster.

“If you want it bad, you’ll get it bad, but if you want it right, you’ll take the time to do what has to be done,” he said Friday, after a World Bank meeting in Washington to take stock of the process.

It would be wrong to throw up flimsy houses for survivors or try to rebuild villages on the same footprint, development specialists said.

Tsunami recovery offers an opportunity to plan communities so that homes can be linked to livelihoods, sanitation and fresh water near the Indian Ocean but still protected from its dangers.

“If you think that can happen in six months, nine months or a year in a region that is so extraordinarily devastated by this wave, then you’re being very naive,” said Mr. Schwartz, whose boss is former President Bill Clinton.

World Bank analysts estimate that it will take at least $13 billion to rebuild coastal areas in India, Indonesia, Maldives and Sri Lanka, the most damaged countries. That sounded like a lot of money until Hurricane Katrina, which is likely to run up a reconstruction bill that is more than $50 billion and pose some of the same questions.

“I believe that what Katrina will help to do is sustain an awareness of the vulnerability of coastal communities everywhere,” Mr. Schwartz said.

Population bulges

The world’s population is a lot larger these days not only in numbers, but also in pounds and inches.

The World Health Organization released a study last week that estimates that more than a billion people are obese or overweight — about one of every six persons — and warned that if the trend continues, the figure will rise to 1.5 billion by 2015.

Formerly a problem of the wealthy and industrialized countries, obesity and being overweight are spreading in low- and middle-income countries, too. It turns out that people in Malta and Mexico get fat for the same reasons they do in Manhattan — bad diet and too little exercise, as well as cultural trends such as sedentary jobs and urbanization.

The WHO estimates that more than 75 percent of women older than 30 are overweight in countries ranging from Barbados to Egypt to South Africa. There are similar statistics for men in Greece, Kuwait and Samoa.

Residents of small Pacific Islands are among the most obese per capita.

The Geneva-based WHO said excess weight leads to increased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other ailments, which can have a big effect on public health.

Zimbabwe standoff

U.N. relief coordinator Jan Egeland is planning a November visit to Zimbabwe to try to untangle disagreements stalling the creation of a $300 million appeal for victims of the government’s radical slum-clearance plan.

Mr. Egeland told reporters on Friday that the trip would focus on humanitarian programs, particularly to stabilize the food situation.

Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, who defended the destruction of slums and markets as a “well-planned vast reconstruction program” in remarks to the General Assembly last week, has refused to permit U.N. officials and nongovernmental organizations the autonomy they demand before allocating money to the country.

At least 700,000 persons were made homeless by government decree just weeks after Mr. Mugabe narrowly won re-election in March.

Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail to bpisik@washingtontimes.com.

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