January 04, 2005

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Silver linings in the tsunami cloud

Disasters like the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami happen quickly but the effects last lifetimes. The horror of the events, a respect for the power of nature and a tinge of morbid curiosity pervade the coverage and reaction. These events serve to remind us all that we are still, despite our ocassional delusions otherwise, at the whim of our planet and not the other way around.

Certain truths also need to be recognised. The setting up of an early warning system is to be commended. But until now most of the tsunami risk was considered concertrated in the Pacific rather than Indian Ocean, where an early warning system is in place. If warnings were given it is also difficult to see how effective they would have been. Certainly lives would have been saved. But in many areas communications are poor; there is no high land to evacuate to; and there are too many people and not enough roads and ways to transport them out. More importantly these Acts of God are unpredictable. That is the horror of these disasters. Humans strive for predictability in our constant attempt to understand and control nature. It doesn't always work out that way. The widespread nature of the destruction is certainly playing a part in the display of charity by Government, business and people. While earthquakes and tsunamis are known events, they are outside the frame of reference for most. Thankfully many of us have never had to confront these natural disasters. When they happen part of the horror is that something so quick can cause so much damage and loss. First hand accounts can give us a taste of what is otherwise unimagineable.

Each of the impacted countries are having different responses to both the disaster and the flood of help. Burma has absurdly claimed less than one hundred deaths and refused all help. Indonesia and Sri Lanka are open in seeking assistance. Just as important as this immediate aid is the longer-term assistance offered, especially once the tragedy fades from the front and even back pages of the papers.

I always wonder about "First World" reaction to natural disasters when they strike predominately developing or poor nations. Often the disaster lasts a news cycle or two before fading, leaving behind the wreckage but not the attention. Much attention in both Australia and Hong Kong has been focussed on the resort of Phuket in Thailand because that is a common holiday spot. It is natural that countries will look at places where their nationals have been taken. At the time of writing 14 Australians and 11 Hong Kongers have been confirmed dead out of a total death toll of 100,000+, with more missing. This time is different. The huge amounts of money and aid flowing in prove that. It might be "over there" but it is being felt everywhere.

What good can be found in all this chaos? The outpouring of charity is clearly one. Both Aceh in Indonesia and in Sri Lanka the affected areas were also areas troubled by civil war. If this disaster can have a similar thawing of relations between two sides as the Greek/Turkish earthquakes did a few years ago, then at least these many deaths may not have been entirely in vain. The main agencies involved in providing help, such as UNICEF and the Red Cross, are being stretched by the geographical and logistical challenges. That such agencies exist and are able to rapidly respond is a blessing for all of humanity. Once again we've all been reminded there are more powerful forces on this planet than us. But these same forces touch and unite the basic humanity in us all.

An excellent site to start for offering assistance is Tsunami Help.

posted by Simon on 01.04.05 at 04:14 PM in the


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Excerpt: Simon has a post on something I'd been wondering about myself: China. As in, what has it been doing while the great powers of the world are pouring money and personnel into helping its disaster-stricken neighbors to the south? He...
Weblog: The White Peril
Tracked: January 5, 2005 12:54 PM


"Much attention in both Australia and Hong Kong has been focussed on the resort of Phuket in Thailand because that is a common holiday spot. It is natural that countries will look at places where their nationals have been taken."

That being said, I would like to learn why Burma has less than 100 deaths while thousands just over their borders have been snuffed out. Restricted Access my butt.

posted by: mdmhvonpa on 01.05.05 at 03:39 AM [permalink]

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