December 29, 2004


Tsunamis may be unifying event (Daniel Altman, December 29, 2004, International Herald Tribune)

In Sri Lanka, for example, the challenge posed by a natural disaster could conceivably help create common ground between the government and the Tamil rebels who control much of the northern part of the country.

"This has affected a very narrow strip all the way around the coast," said Alessandro Pio, the country director for the Asian Development Bank in Colombo. "It's a disaster that affects both the north and the south, both of the parties in the civil war."

As a result, Pio said, cooperation between the two sides may be logical or even necessary from a logistical standpoint.

The effects of such cooperation could be far-reaching. Five years ago, earthquakes in Greece and Turkey began a political thaw that has arguably culminated in Turkey's candidacy for the European Union.

In Indonesia, the government this week lifted a ban on international aid to Aceh, where separatists have been fighting a guerrilla war for a quarter-century.

"I'm hoping that this will generate a certain feeling of national unity in trying to respond together to this adversity," Pio said of Sri Lanka's tragedy. "That's really one of the pivot factors in terms of the economy taking off on a higher growth path."

In India, despite the fact that the tsunamis were the first for decades, they may become part of an ongoing learning process for dealing with natural catastrophes. In particular, they present an opportunity for the government to show that it is serious about preparing homes, businesses, public buildings and other infrastructure for future disasters.

"In general, the approach to disaster management in India has changed considerably," said G Padmanabhan, an emergency analyst at the United Nations Development Program in Delhi. He said that building laws and regulations had been modified to require disaster-proof construction, but that more officials needed training in enforcement and engineering techniques.

"The government has recently started programs to train people," he said. "I hope in the reconstruction process they will enforce these, so we don't recreate this vulnerability."

As Chesterton put it:
"Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances which we know to be desperate. It is true that there is a state of hope which belongs to bright prospects and the morning; but that is not the virtue of hope. The virtue of hope exists only in earthquake and, eclipse….For practical purposes it is at the hopeless moment that we require the hopeful man, and the virtue either does not exist at all, or begins to exist at that moment. Exactly at the instant when hope ceases to be reasonable it begins to be useful."

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 29, 2004 8:53 AM

Or they could just let the Tamil Tigers rot.

Posted by: Sandy P at December 29, 2004 2:06 PM