For Paul Martin, tsunami is just a photo-op

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Posted by Lou on 13:16:52 2005/01/19

PUBLICATION: The Winnipeg Sun
DATE: 2005.01.19
SECTION: Editorial/Opinion
BYLINE: GARTH PRITCHARD disaster in Sri Lanka.


It was a circus when Prime Minister Paul Martin visited the disaster area of Kalmunia in Sri Lanka this week for a photo opportunity.

His people from Ottawa, including the RCMP, were pushing people out of the way, grabbing at cameras and trampling over graves on the beach in order to photograph the PM.

An RCMP guy tried to interfere with my camera, but one of our soldiers intervened. A couple of women from the PM's office were running around yelling at people. It got out of hand. It was crazy.

The whole visit was a photo opportunity -- with cameras set up for the PM in designated spots: Martin on the beach looking out to sea, Martin amid the wreckage, Martin with a homeless kid, Martin taking a token drink of water produced by the DART (Disaster Assistance Response Team) water purifier.

He met with the Canadian commander, Lt. Col. Mike Voith, and a small medical team but didn't visit the camp of the 200 Canadian military people here for tsunami victims. Martin's handlers wanted no one but their people taking photos. The padre was even shoved out of the way.

And then he was gone -- helicoptered out. Maybe 90 minutes in the area. Embarrassing. I'm in Sri Lanka with the DART men and women and, as Canadian soldiers always do, they're working miracles -- but the PM didn't have time to visit them. I found it a slap in the face. Why couldn't the PM's handlers have taken him to the soldiers who are doing a fantastic job? There were eyebrows raised at the camp when it was learned he wouldn't be visiting.

The PM would've been prouder to be a Canadian if he'd seen how Canadians soldiers are responding. Yesterday we delivered 35,000 litres of fresh water to people. We're working with an Irish aid group who are fantastic at delivering the water in 200-gallon containers that people draw from.

People are always thanking the Canadians. The DART guys are making friends for Canada and whatever DART costs, it's being repaid a hundredfold.

The human damage is appalling. Mostly it's injuries and disease that our medics are treating.
Lung infections from sea water are a real concern, and our doctors work overtime treating them. They deal with about 100 people a day.

The human stories go on and on. One girl who lost her parents is catatonic -- hasn't spoken since the disaster, won't eat, just stares. Yesterday, a baby whose mother and grandmother were drowned in a house was brought in. The baby was found hoisted on a coat hanger on the wall.

Stories like this are everywhere.
The Canadians are based near the centre of Sri Lanka, and every day teams fan out to different areas. As is normal with our soldiers, they do everything -- and are now starting to remove rubble. They've even started a ferry service across a bay that saves people six hours of walking.

This is a Third World environment, and people who have lost everything have heard of all the money raised for them in Europe and North America. They keep asking where it is and want it now, in cash, and don't understand why we don't give it to them.

We've been told CIDA is here. Somewhere. They're nowhere near us, and we're in the centre of the disaster area. We suspect they're having meetings in Colombo.

I find myself wondering how much more awful things would be if DART weren't here. These guys are wonderful. I know there are those who criticize the DART program, but it works and is essential right now for Sri Lanka.

When all this is over, what Sri Lankans will remember is DART, not the PM's visit for a photo-op.

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