[Politech] Two Internet views on the Asian tsunami and its aftermath

From: Declan McCullagh (declan@private)
Date: Thu Jan 06 2005 - 06:50:30 PST

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Tsunami aftermath - Picture of hell and no kerosene
Date: Sat, 01 Jan 2005 20:48:27 +0530
From: suresh@private (Suresh Ramasubramanian)
To: declan@private
CC: dave@private

Relief efforts are going on, following a fairly familiar pattern.

High profile types (politicians, film stars) waltz in, get photographed 
and go
right back.  Journalists hang around near the politicians and film 
stars.  It
is left to a few volunteers to plow a lonely furrow, often without too much
access to all the money that's flowing in


It’s five kilometres of hell, and it’s right here at Nagapattinam.

Kaviarsi studies – make that studied – in the sixth standard. Her 
schoolbooks lie a short distance away, and besides them lies a doll. The 
girl herself lies on a makeshift pyre on what used to be her home, her 
face totally blackened, her neck twisted upwards, the skin peeling off 
her legs like torn stockings. There is a large empty container of Pepsi 
lying just besides her, and four other bodies. And besides the pyre, 
towards the sunset, are five long kilometers of slushy wasteland strewn 
with dead bodies.

It wasn’t like this five days ago. We – me and two companions – are at a 
part of Nagapattinum called Akkarakadai, where a prosperous fishing 
community lived. This five-kilometre-long stretch of land was filled 
with houses, and had at its heart a bustling Sunday marketplace. The 
people here were well off – some of them had expensive fishing launches 
costing many lakhs of rupees. Then the tsunami came.

These settlements begin half a kilometre from the sea, across the road, 
but the tsunami swept everything away. Every single house was flooded 
away, all the way till the end of the stretch, and when I went there, I 
just saw one long expanse of slush. In the distance, there were pyres 

Dr Narasimhan, a man I’d wanted to meet, who heads a team of relief 
workers that has come down from Salem, told me when I called him that we 
had to walk into that expanse, beyond the pyres. “Walk towards the 
sunset till you find me,” he said, and we did.

It took us half-an-hour to traverse the half-kilometre or so until we 
reached him. The ground was like quicksand in parts, and our shoes would 
sink in with each step and resist our attempts to lift our feet again. 
We came across dead bodies on the way: a young girl in a basket, her 
limbs akimbo, and her face, with some dried blood on it, contorted in an 
expression that even Damien Hirst would have found too macabre. Three 
feet away from her lay a woman, with a frozen look of horror on her 
face, etched into an eerie permanence.

“In an unprecedented situation, you need an unprecedented response”

“For the next five kilometres,” Dr Narsimhan motion towards the setting 
sun, “you will find bodies everywhere. Only the distance you have walked 
so far – around half a kilometre – has been cleared of corpses. This is 
the furthest point till which bodies have been cleared. There is so much 
work to be done.”

“It’s five days since the tsunami happened,” I say. “Why is this place 
so deserted, why hasn’t all this been sorted?”

Dr Narasimhan sighs. “Sorted,” he asks. “All that the government has 
been doing is lining the streets outside with bleaching powder. They are 
not interested in coming here, they left this to the NGOs. And look at 
this.” He extends his hands towards me. “We’re doing all the work of 
moving bodies with surgical gloves made of latex, which are no 
protection against cuts and bruises.”

I had heard about this before I arrived here, in Pondicherry, where Aid 
workers had complained that the locals in Nagapattinam had refused to 
help out in clearing the bodies, and when the aid workers got down to it 
with their latex gloves, the bodies had started decomposing, and were 
difficult to manouver, with a limb prone to just falling away from the 
rest of the corpse.

“We need heavy earth-moving equipment,” he had said. “That way the 
bodies can be shifted en masse and given a mass burial. That is the only 
way to deal with this situation.” Mani Shankar Aiyar, India’s petroleum 
minister, had announced on TV four days ago that such equipment was at 
the top of his wishlist of aid. Then why did it not materialise? Could 
the government not mobilise its resources even that much?

But that need is redundant now, says Dr Narsimhan. “What we need now,” 
he says, “is kerosene. We need to burn bodies as we come along them on 
this stretch, before they decompose further. And we have no kerosene.

“We’ve been calling aid agencies and so on asking for fuel to burn the 
bodies with,” he continues, “but we got none. We managed to file some 
cans of kerosene lying around some of the devastated houses, but there’s 
no more of even that?”

“But can’t the government give you kerosene?” I ask astonished.

“The government does nothing,” he says. “I thought differently till I 
came here, but now I’ve seen it for myself. Everything is left to the 
junior IAS officers, who are in meetings all day. Ministers come, and 
all they want to know is how many people are dead. They don’t care about 
relief work at all. In an unprecedented situation you need an 
unprecedented response. But that has not happened.”

The temple without a toilet

Dr Narsimhan gets back to his work, and I look up, where a helicoptor 
moves languidly across the sky. “That’s the fifth one today,” says a 
lady who is part of the doctor’s team.

“They come and ‘survey’ the area,which is so pointless, because you 
cannot actually see the dead bodies from here amid this debris. It is 
just a show, to reassure themselves that they’re on top of things. The 
army officers who come here, they refuse to even touch the bodies. They 
just hang around aimlessly.”

I ask the lady what she does, and she says that she is a journalist, but 
would like to remain unnamed for my story. “I have come here to help out 
and not report,” she says. “That is more important for me.” I look down, 

She has been here for three days, and I ask her why, mucky though it may 
be, the place doesn’t have any people looking for their loved ones. 
“Because the entire community is wiped out,” she says. “There aren’t too 
many relatives left of the people who have died here, and those that are 
have become resigned to their loss.”

“Have you been to any of the refugee camps?” I ask her.

“Yes,” she says. “I went to a refugee camp yesterday where there were 
1500 homeless people. And not one toilet. Do you know why?

“Because the camp was based in a temple,” she continues, “and you cannot 
build a toilet in a temple. And I’d gone there to speak to them on 
health issues! And they cannot even wash their hands.

“And this is not an isolated example. There are scores of refugee camps 
like this. I hardly call this relief work.”

And how are the NGOs handling the situation, I ask.”Oh, they are doing 
all the work,the government is doing nothing,” she says. “But even they 
are competitive, trying hard to stake a claim to territory.” I had 
noticed a similar tendency when I was on my way here, with many trucks 
adorned with banners proclaiming the name of the relief agency involved. 
The organisation I had chosen to travel with, Aid India, was an 
exception, though, working hard and sincerely to solve every problem 
that arose.

So why haven’t the press written about this, I ask her. “The press,” she 
snorts. “The journalists from the Hindu are all flying around with 
dignitaries. That is the kind of reporting they do.”

The sun has set, and there is a column of smoke rising from the pyres 
flowing in the direction where the sun was. It is New Year’s eve. I say 
goodbye to Narasimhan and my unnamed journalist friend, and I do not 
wish them a happy new year. I wish them kerosene.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Thai Met bureau knew about the tsunami, sat tight on the 
Date: Wed, 29 Dec 2004 10:37:16 +0530
From: Suresh Ramasubramanian <suresh@private>
Organization: -ENOENT
To: Declan McCullagh <declan@private>
CC: Dave Farber <dave@private>

A forward to the india-gii mailing list .. from Dr.Jai Maharaj no less
(now that's a blast from the ghost of usenet past ...)


jai <jai@private> wrote:
 > Swedish newspaper: Tsunami warning was stopped
 > Source - Expressen (Swedish online newspaper)
 > Date - Dec. 28
 > Translated by: CLiss
 > http://www.expressen.se/expressen/jsp/polopoly.jsp?a=223277
 > "Tsunami warning was stopped"
 > Just minutes after the earthquake in the Indian Ocean on
 > Sunday morning, Thailand's foremost meterological experts
 > were sitting together in a crisis meeting. But they
 > decided not to warn about the tsunami "out of courtesy to
 > the tourist industry", write the Thailand daily newspaper
 > The Nation.
 > The experts got the news around 8:00 am on Sunday morning
 > local time. An hour later, the first massive wave struck.
 > But the experts started to discuss the economic impacts
 > when they were discussing if a tsunami warning should be
 > made. The main argument against such a warning was that
 > there have not been any floods in 300 years. Also, the
 > experts believed the Indonesian island Sumatra would be a
 > "cushion" for the southern coast of Thailand. The experts
 > also had bad information; they thought the tremor was
 > 8.1. A similar earthquake occurred in the same area in
 > 2002 with no flooding at all.
 > <snip>
 > We finally decided not to do anything because the tourist
 > season was in full swing. The hotels were 100% booked
 > full. What if we issued a warning, which would have led
 > to an evacuation, and nothing had happened. What would be
 > the outcome? The tourist industry would be immediately
 > hurt. Our department would not be able to endure a
 > lawsuit...<snip>
 > - - - - -
 > My only comment here would be that if these
 > experts believed they would hurt the tourist
 > industry by calling out an alarm and it turned
 > out to be false, what do they think will happen
 > to the tourist industry now?
 > Posted by cliss on Tue Dec-28-04 03:41 PM
 > - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
 > Money trumps all concerns.
 > Posted by RandomKoolzip on Tue Dec-28-04 03:44 PM
 > - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
 > http://tinyurl.com/62un4
 > Or,
 > Jai Maharaj
 > http://www.mantra.com/jai
 > Om Shanti
 > ___________________________
 > india-gii mailing list:
 > https://ssl.cpsr.org/mailman/listinfo/india-gii india-gii archives:
 > https://ssl.cpsr.org/pipermail/india-gii/
 > Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility: http://www.cpsr.org/

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