The compassionate response of Canadians - and. for that matter, the whole Western world - to the tsunami disaster has been most encouraging. Millions of people have been moved by the horrific pictures of violently crashing waves and the ensuing death and destruction along the coasts of the Indian Ocean.

International aid organizations, including the Anglican's own, the Primate's World Relief and Development Agency (PWRDF), have received record contributions. One poll found that two-thirds of Canadians have given, or plan to. In this diocese the response has been similarly generous.

Terrible as the disaster has been, it could be a turning point if it brings home the message that we do indeed live in a global village, and the welfare of one part of the world affects that of all.

Theologians _ including the Archbishop of Canterbury - have tried to address the question of why such a terrible thing can happen _ and most of them have come up with the same answer that Job found: it is beyond human understanding.

But we can and do know why the tsunami, when it happened, had such a devastating effect, killing 150,000 people. The death toll was high because the waves struck a very poor part of the world.

Along the Indian Ocean, most of those who died were people living in low lying areas next to the ocean, in flimsy buildings, in countries which decided they could not afford warning systems, scratching out a living by subsistence fishing.

Catastrophe strikes the rich as well as the poor, but wealth severely reduces what the rich suffer. According to the New York Times, Tehran is a poor city the size of Los Angeles, with similar geology. In Los Angeles, a quake of 7.5 magnitude might kill 50,000 people, experts estimate. In Tehran a similar quake could kill more than a million people.

The Western world, though, in the past has been much more responsive to catastrophe, than interested in preventing disaster in poor countries.

The Times article cited a study by Tearfund, a British and Irish Christian aid agency. It found that when Mozambique anticipated major flooding in 2002 and asked for less than $3 million to make emergency preparations, only half that amount was forthcoming from international donor organizations. After the flood, those same groups contributed $550 million in emergency assistance, rehabilitation and reconstruction.

Then there are the ongoing disasters that don't make dramatic pictures. In January, the month following the tsunami, more people in Africa died of malaria (165,000 or more) and of AIDS (240,000), and almost as many died of diarrhea (140,000) _ all preventable deaths.

The West is wealthy. We have been able to respond generously to the South Asian catastrophe - and it's good that we have done so.

Now the task is to turn that heartfelt response into a long term commitment to improving life - and saving many lives _ of all of God's children.