The biggest natural disaster in modern times took place in 1976, when the Chinese city of Tangshan was leveled by an earthquake, killing a quarter of a million people. Within a few years, that industrial city in northeast China had been rebuilt.
Such a rapid recovery may be more difficult for survivors of Sunday's tsunamis. They are spread across eight countries in southern Asia. Many of the more than 22,000 victims were poor fishermen who lived along the coasts in isolated communities. Indonesia alone has an estimated 1 million newly homeless. Two of the worst-hit spots, the northern tips of Sri Lanka and of Indonesia's island of Sumatra, are also war zones where rebels are seeking independence.
Coordinating a humanitarian response won't be easy. In 1998, when a hurricane killed about 10,000 people in Central America, the World Bank supplied $5.3 billion in financing to help the nearly 2 million left homeless. For this new Asian crisis, individual donor nations and private aid groups can assist survivors by focusing on areas they already know best.
Contributions to aid groups with a good track record in the region will go far to reducing suffering and redeveloping flattened economies and communities. Such donations will be needed for months, after health hazards are reduced and as rebuilding begins. Money and supplies, along with hope and prayers, can speed this recovery.