World is one, warns tsunami

Ranjit Devraj:

It has taken a devastating tsunami that claimed more than 150,000 lives in a dozen countries to remind people of their interdependence and common destiny. Last Sunday’s undersea earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter triggered off killer waves, jolted the earth off its axis and permanently altered the map of Asia say geologists. But it still found the wealthier nations reluctant to loosen their purse strings and help millions of fellow travellers get back on an even keel.

After five days and accusations of stinginess US President Bush got round to announcing a ten-fold increase in the original offer of a paltry $35 million in relief. This critics point out looks like small compared to the more than $150 billion spent, so far, on the stated aim of bringing democracy to Iraq.

In contrast, India though itself stricken by the tsunami, lost no time in pledging $25 million in financial aid to Sri Lanka and dispatching aircraft and warships laden with essential supplies and helicopters to its stricken South Asian neighbour. Indian help was also sent to the Maldives and to the worst-hit Indonesia.

Yet western reluctance is only part of the story considering that India is equally reluctant to accept aid and has stuck to traditional policy, that can be traced to previous Cold War suspicions, of refusing international support for badly needed disaster relief.

Political rather than geological fault lines is what separates the Bay of Bengal from the Pacific Ocean. This has been responsible for India and Sri Lanka staying so disastrously out of the Pacific tsunami warning system that is led by the US and Japan. For too many decades, India has been on a self reliant trip which has resulted in the ossification of its scientific structures and overdependence of its military on technology and hardware sourced from the former Soviet Union.

Activists and volunteers are complaining that India has not been doing a particularly good job of getting relief to southern Tamil Nadu state or to its far-flung Andaman and Nicobar islands, close to the epicenter of the quake. These Indian territories accounted for 10,000 of the dead. S P Udayakumar, convenor of the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE), is angry that officials of the Kalpakkam nuclear power station on the coast close to Chennai city first bragged about how they had shut down the plant on hearing of the earthquake near Sumatra and then retracted after people started asking them why they had not then passed on the information to other government agencies and the public.

It took two hours for the tsunami to travel the 1,200 kilometers from the epicenter of the undersea quake off Sumatra and reach the Sri Lankan and Indian shores Udayakumar said people are now demanding to know how a Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) that is unable to protect its own men and machines from a natural disaster is ever going to protect, evacuate and rehabilitate local populations in the event of accidents or even an armed attack on one of the several nuclear plants sited on the Tamil Nadu coast.

But even more uncomfortable questions are being raised about the Andaman and Nicobar islands, an archipelago some 1,2000 kilometers from the mainland.

Many fear an anthropological disaster there and indicate that a number of unique tribes could have been wiped out, because the islands had no high ground to which the aboriginals could have escaped the tsunami. As it is, most of the territory is out of bounds for foreigners and even Indian citizens unless on special permits. — IPS