This content is from: Home

Mobilizing the world

The tsunami that surged across the Indian Ocean last month produced a terrifying display of nature's destructive potential along thousands of miles of coastline.

Never in modern times have so many countries been so devastated by a single natural disaster. Western tourists in the resorts of Thailand and the Maldives and subsistence-fishing communities in India and Sri Lanka were equally helpless before the waves.

Their common destiny, as well as the sheer scale of the death and destruction, helps to explain the outpouring of aid and support all around the world. Governments have pledged at least $3 billion in aid, spurred on by the extraordinary response of private individuals, who contributed hundreds of millions of dollars. The U.K. is proposing a debt moratorium for affected countries and a Group of Seven­led reconstruction program. This disaster relief effort, thankfully, is one that will not lack for resources.

The challenge is to use those resources effectively. The unprecedented nature of the disaster demands a reconstruction effort on a scale never before seen. Governments, international lending agencies, the private sector and charities need to work together and overcome the usual turf battles and bureaucratic tendencies.

Given the region's dynamism, the economies of the affected countries are bound to recover long before the physical and emotional scars can heal. Hastening that recovery with an effective reconstruction effort is the best memorial that the international community can provide for the victims.

Anyone looking for hopeful signs of how disaster can produce positive outcomes should examine the case of Turkey. The failure of the former coalition government to effectively mobilize relief after a deadly 1999 earthquake, tarnished the country's corrupt and sclerotic political establishment and helped lead to the overwhelming victory of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party in 2002. "Europe's New Frontier" (page 32) tells how Erdogan has used fiscal discipline to bring an end to hyperinflation and been willing to disappoint his Muslim followers to fulfill the European Union's political criteria for membership.

The EU decision last month to open negotiations with Ankara is only the start of a long process, and membership isn't guaranteed, but given Erdogan's reform record and Turkey's explosive economic growth, it would be foolish to bet against him.