Yusniar still hears the roaring in her head, the waves thunderously loud. The sea that was supposed to be a mother, protecting, sustaining, became a fury, sweeping two of her children away.
Compared with some people, she was lucky. Yusniar, 50, was able to find them and bury them herself, before retreating to the hills where she can keep an eye on the ocean, keep it in its place, from her tent made of blue plastic sheets and Styrofoam fished out of the swamps. Neither she nor the 150 others camping with her near Banda Aceh, capital of the Indonesian province that suffered the worst destruction, are ready to come down. The relief workers haven't yet discovered them, like untold numbers of others. "The water took away everything," she says. "We're afraid the waves may come back and try to take the rest of us."
The most experienced soldiers in the modern wars against catastrophe call this the greatest challenge of their lifetime. The arrival of aid to the battered region offered the first promise of relief to the storm's survivors, but many questions remain: How quickly can $4 billion go toward saving 5 million people when the U.N. is warning that disease could kill as many as the tsunami did, a number now reaching upwards of 150,000? How do thousands of rescuers, from hundreds of agencies, from dozens of countries, speaking different languages, coordinate their efforts so that relief workers in need of antibiotics don't find that the truck they are unloading carries only biscuits and blankets? How do they resettle a port town when residents look at the ocean and see a grave, refuse to eat fish for fear it has fed on the lost? How do they calculate human nature in countries where government soldiers fight with rebels over who gets the credit for feeding people who are close to starving?
As if to rebalance some cosmic scale, another wave is washing over South Asia like none the world has ever seen. The worst disaster in memory has evoked the greatest outpouring of charity. "Just as we see the power of nature to destroy, we have seen the power of human compassion to build," said Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown. The pledges coming in to the U.N. for tsunami relief already surpass all the relief money received in 2004 for the top 20 disasters combined. The politics of pity is never pure, so there was a kind of global competition in generosity, especially after the U.S. increased an early pledge of aid tenfold, to $350 million. Japan offered $500 million, Germany topped that with a $660 million pledge, and Australia weighed in with $810 million. Arab commentators engaged in some self-criticism, asking why Norwegians and Belgians offered so much more than Arabs to help Asia's suffering Muslims. During his visit to Indonesia, the hardest-hit country and the world's most populous Muslim nation, Secretary of State Colin Powell could not let pass an opportunity for self-congratulation. "I think it does give the Muslim world and the rest of the world an opportunity to see American generosity, American values in action," he said.