The death toll from the Southeast Asia tsunami seems to have risen everytime I turn to a news source. The BBC are reporting 125000 confirmed dead this morning. A number like that can’t really be taken in. It is the individual stories that really tear at me - mothers who have seen their children washed away, a father who left his daughter playing in the street and now will never see her again, children whose entire family has gone… Grief on an unimaginable scale.
I’m struck too by how, although this event occurred thousands of miles from here, it is not really distant. Part of that is to do with the power of the media, but once again it is the stories of individuals that brings it closest. I’ve learned that one of my ministerial colleagues in South Wales has to deal with knowing that half of his home town in Sri Lanka has been destroyed and that his family are now living in really appalling conditions. A church family is holidaying in Sri Lanka, safe in the mountains. They had been due to move to a beach resort on Monday and the hotel they would have stayed in is now rubble. These events are not far off. They have happened to my neighbours.
If there is any comfort to be found in all this, it is that the world evidently agrees with me. There has been an outpouring of compassion and generosity on an unprecedented scale. The British public have so far donated Â£32 million, and the government has raised its aid pledge from Â£15 to Â£50 million. Getting in aid and relief to the stricken will be no mean feat, but harder still will be the rebuilding that must follow. Sustaining our compassion for this long haul is a task for all of us.