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THE TSUNAMI SHAME

Bal Krishna
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Thank God! I was not there!
Many of us would have thought that way. But for those who perished, that too in large numbers, life ends there. Just end for those, who got new identities in a span of few hours – widow, orphan, physically impaired, homeless, childless…and managed to survive, probably to see the worse. For them it was not simply the tsunami, as many named the disaster this time. For them, life changed forever when they saw in front of their own eyes their loved ones being swept into the ocean along with their dreams, future, and life itself.

26 December 2004…who can ever forget that fateful day. Now probably one of the red letter days in the history of disasters. The tsunami originated somewhere near Sumatra, Indonesia claiming lives in many countries like Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and many others.

The count starts. The counting of dead bodies. Never ever we will know how many? Some say, more than 1,50,000. How does that matter? Really, how does that matter? Thank God, I was not there!

While writing this article in Delhi, which is situated in a seismic zone, there is nothing, absolutely nothing that can assure, that I will be not ‘there’, next time. Who knows? Still who cares?

Disasters as ‘opportunities’
But do we really need to care when disasters themselves are ‘opportunities’…opportunities for donor countries (read global and Asian powers) to outmaneuver each other…and opportunity to grab the limelight with figures like $500 million (Japan) or $35…err sorry…350 million (US)…or 60 million (China). In fact, United Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has advised against counting the chickens before they hatch.

According to a report published in the Times of India on 5 January 2005 the devastating earthquake in Iran a year ago saw commitments worth $ 1.1 b, but just $17 million or less than a quarter of 1 per cent of the pledged amount has materialised so far. There are many such examples where the pledged generous offers were never realized.

For politicians, it is a time for aerial surveys and evolving future strategies, for intellectuals and experts it is a time for discussion on how to make the world disaster-free and for the governments it is a time again to pledge for better response, better coordination and better systems, and of course setting up a few new committees.

For the news-starved media, again it is an opportunity. An opportunity to have a temporary shift from sex and war to grief and dead bodies…and an opportunity to come out with some ‘exclusives’ on the occasion. It is a time to flaunt ideas and ideals, crib about system, media voyeurism, and more importantly exploring business.

Why am I writing this article? Not sure. Taking up media ‘responsibility’ or just observing ‘rituals’ or again an ‘opportunity’. How can we forget Gujarat, Orissa. The same story again.

Tsunami: The sequence of events
  • The initial earthquake occurred about 155 kilometres southwest of the northern tip of the Indonesian island of Sumatra, at 7:59 a.m. local time (7:59 p.m. EST)
  • The waves hit Thailand, about 1,000 km away, between one and two hours after the quake.
  • About 2.5 hours after the initial quake, the tsunami crashed into the shores of Sri Lanka and India.
  • Not long after that, the low-lying Maldives was swamped
  • More than seven hours after they started their westward journey, the tsunamis took another 211 lives in East Africa, the majority in Somalia.
  • As of today more than 1,50,000 are feared to be dead or missing due to this phenomenon