It has taken a devastating tsunami that claimed more than 150,000 lives in a dozen
countries scattered across the vast Indian Ocean to remind passengers on the fragile
spaceship, Earth, 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 of this shared planet reluctant to loosen their purse
strings and help millions of fellow travelers get back on an even keel.
After five days and accusations of stinginess U.S. President George W. Bush, sometimes
referred to as the president of the planet, got round to announcing a ten-fold increase in
the original offer of a paltry 35 million U.S. dollars (he started off with a 15 million U.S.
dollar offer) in relief for survivors of one of the worst ever natural disasters to visit
In contrast, India though itself stricken by the tsunami, lost no time in pledging 25
million U.S. dollars in financial aid to Sri Lanka (which has reported close to 30,000
deaths) and dispatching aircraft and warships laden with essential supplies and helicopters
to its stricken South Asian neighbor. Indian help was also sent to the Maldives and to the
''I want to thank the government of India for the magnificent support they have given us
very early even when India itself was struggling with the same problem as us,'' Sri Lankan
President Chandrika Kumaratunga told the New Delhi-based television channel
'NDTV24x7' in an interview in Colombo on Saturday.
Kumaratunga said during the interview that when she asked Indian Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh if he could spare the funds when southern India was badly devastated,
the response from the former World Bank economist and champion of globalization was
''we have to share this tragedy.''
That vision of sharing was missing in the 350 million U.S. dollars pledged by Washington
which critics point out looks like small change compared to the more than 150 billion U.S.
dollars spent, so far, on the stated aim of bringing democracy to Iraq.
U.S. Democrat Senator Patrick Leahy, said he ''went through the roof when I heard them
bragging about 35 million dollars. We spent 35 million dollars before breakfast in Iraq.''
And if there is more money forthcoming than the two billion U.S. dollars already pledged
by the 'coalition of the willing' it would undoubtedly have to do with cynical calculations
that here was an opportunity to win favor with Indonesia, where close to 100,000 people
died and which happens to have the world's largest Muslim population.
Yet western reluctance to part with money for relief 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
Before the finger pointing starts on why there was no adequate warning to India, a stark
fact has to be borne in mind.
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 U.S. 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.
''There is a little doubt that after the Dec. 26 tsunami, India will have to enter an
international collaborative program against a similar event in the future,'' said H.N.
Srivastava one of India's leading disaster management experts.
Eddie Bernard, director of the Seattle-based Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, has
been quoted by the 'Indian Express' as saying that it is possible to take advantage of U.S.
expertise and construct a system to monitor the Indian Ocean quickly.
''To share costs among agencies, the equipment can be used for several scientific
purposes - the two agencies must agree how to coordinate,'' he said.
For now, 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.
''The tsunamis proves once again our pathetic national record of emergency
unpreparedness. Almost a week after the disaster bloated human bodies and animal
carcasses are rotting on the open beaches and posing a health hazard,'' said S.P.
Udayakumar, convenor of the People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) that is
located in Nagercoil town close to the southern tip of the peninsula.
Udayakumar 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 the northern tip Sumatra island in Indonesia and reach the Sri
Lankan and Indian shores - precious time which could have been used to activate cyclone
warning systems that are already in place.
''When the sea suddenly retreated poor people actually ran out to collect fish and crabs
and were totally unprepared for the wall of water that came back swallowing not only them
but entire villages and even people living in the posh residential complexes built for the
engineers and staff of the Kalpakkam nuclear complex,'' Udayakumar told IPS.
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
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.
''It is important for international agencies to work closely and coordinate with the
government of India,'' said Steve Hollingworth, head of the international aid group CARE,
hitting out at the reluctance of Indian authorities to grant permission for groups such as
his to begin relief work on the islands.
Nonetheless, there are signs of changing mindsets.
On Dec. 30, India agreed to be part of a core group along with Japan, Canada and
Australia to help coordinate efforts with the U.N. and ''avoid duplication of efforts, identify
gaps in the relief process and find ways and means to address deficiencies.''
© 2004 IPS - Inter Press Service