Lessons to Learn from Tsunami

By Dr. Tilak S. Fernando

On 26 December 2004, especially on the 'Unduwap Poya', which is supposed to be the last sanctified day (according to the Buddhist calendar in Sri Lanka), a collision occurred beneath the Indian ocean between the Indian and Mynamar earth plates making them snap over 100 km of earth crust, ten kilometres beneath the sea floor, moving the Mynamar earth plate 40 ft over the Indian plate, resulting devastation across many parts of Southern Asia. This brutal act of nature, named Tsunami, made the Indian Ocean to be violently boisterous and sweep across at 450 m.p.h causing the maximum damage to Indonesia and Sri Lanka, simultaneously taking a staggering number of lives with it and displacing millions.

Dr. Ranjith Premalal de Silva, President of the Sri Lanka Geological Information Society in Sri Lanka has assessed the power of Tsunami, equivalent to an earthquake 30,000 times as powerful as that of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima (8.9 on Richter scale, whereas the magnitude of the Hiroshima bomb was measured only at 5.5).

For those of us who are living abroad may feel blessed to be alive, but for those who lost their families, property and everything they possessed over a lifetime would only be left with no words to express. This was the first time the modern world saw a natural cataclysm in such magnitude in our living memory. Equally it was amazing how the world community, along with the Sri Lankan compatriots, responded swiftly at lighting speed, having seen the human tragedy in their homeland through the latest digital technology.

Immediately millions of foreign aid was pledged by almost every industrial country in the world, which clearly showed the mere bonding beneath every human heart, irrespective of political, religious or ethnic differences. No one, I suppose, has ever seen or felt the compassionate element within human beings in this manner during this Kali Yuga where ethics, morality and respect have deteriorated to such an extent that the very human life too has become valueless today, with killings, murder, rape, kidnapping etc .

Indeed, it was an amazing response from the world population at large whenever they came across a Sri Lankan after the Tsunami disaster. Their first reaction was to find out whether the families and friends in Sri Lanka were O.K. I happened be at the time in Italy. I could not believe my eyes or ears when I saw on TV how the financial and other forms of aid was pledged in numerous forms towards the Tsunami rescue operations. Every departmental store or a bank carried contribution tills for voluntary collections. Hundreds of people parted with money, clothes, bottles of water and various forms of other assistance willingly, illustrating the fact that human beings are only just a single family.

I also witnessed with my own naked eyes the amount of effort Sri Lankan community in Brascia, (Italy) put in, by organising themselves and going on streets collecting donations to help out the victims back at home. In London it was even better. London is a base where a record number of Sri Lankans live and work with so many Sri Lankan Associations from alma mater, social, political to cultural. Equally Buddhist temples, Catholic and Christian Associations work for the welfare of the Sri Lankan expatriate community along with all Sri Lankan based trading houses in the UK. They all responded in unison to the 'Town Crier's Call' from the Sri Lanka High Commission, through the Sri Lankan tabloids published in London to come forward and to show their might, strength and unity as sons of a single nation, at a time of disaster, distress and need. E-mails flew, collection of cash, various aid items from tents, medicine, dry food to clothes got piled up at each collecting point and were readily shipped.

Through the Sri Lankan news media and on television the world saw the remarkable human quality of locals in Sri Lanka helping the affected souls, taking only the human element into consideration while helping out the distressed foreign tourists as well as their own kind. With limited resources it was a moving scene to see how the natives managed to carry even the injured foreigners covered in mud on their backs, risking their own lives at the height of the disaster.

Despite Hatton National Bank Stock Brokers comment that, " wicked waves have not toppled Lankan economy", personal visits by the UN Secretary General Kofi Anan and the outgoing US Secretary of State Colin Powell, billions of Rupees were pledged by the UN, USA, Italy, EU, Australia, Canada, Germany to name a few countries; Britain alone has pledged £100 million (20 Billion Sri Lankan Rupees) for the reconstruction of the infra structure of Sri Lanka. On a personal level, Aid is getting through to Sri Lanka from various Non Governmental Agencies as much as from the Sri Lankan expatriates living across the globe, which should suffice to rebuild Sri Lanka and give a new face lift to the country, unfortunately at the cost of so many lives!

The cardinal question in one's mind now is that in a climate of political upheaval, terrorism, bribery and corruption where a wealthy minority live comfortably on the sweat of the poor, whether such offered foreign aid would be utilised by the administrators and politicians for the benefit of the hardest hit poor?

First reports that emerged from news media have been that 'some of the relief efforts were numerously scattered and there was a lack of organised co-operation, planning and honesty'. Although it is difficult to assess the validity of various news stories that have emerged by being thousands of miles away from the scene, at times stories such as, " people have been arrested collecting money from roadside under false pretences; ministers were seeking individually supplies from the collection drives to solely to serve their own constituencies rather than addressing the needs of the deserved and the affected for their political aims; A top ranking police officer, in a T-shirt, shown on television, getting mud in his house washed by servants while a browser full of water parked at the back of his garden, with his comments " I do not care a damn about it" surely were adequate to churn the stomachs over of those who genuinely helped.

Some of the other press reports went on to say, "Vultures in human from descend on the dead", Brian Tissera and U.K Abeyratne reported in the Island newspaper from Galle: " Organised groups operating in the disaster affected areas in the South are removing valuables such as gold rings and necklaces from decomposing corpses before burial." Nadeera Seneviratne (News Lanka) reported that, " women and children in refuge status have become vulnerable to sexual abuse." Normal Palihawadana in The Island reported " Monk nabbed over alleged sales of relief material. Mt. Lavinia police had taken a Buddhist monk on suspicion that he was involved in a racket in pilfering aid meant for Tsunami victims'. The report said that the monk was alleged to have sold the stock to private traders a stock of lingerie that had been donated to Tsunami victims.

Daily Mirror quoted: " Amidst widespread reports that Aid distribution to millions of Tsunami catastrophe victims were largely uncoordinated, if not chaotic, wholesome stocks were being robbed. Armed Forces took control of the whole distribution network."

An LTTE claim which was broadcast on the BBC 24hrs News bulletin, quoting its Political Wing Leader, Thameelselven that Tsunami aid was not reaching the terrorist controlled areas was soon challenged by the Sri Lankan High Commissioner Faiz Musthapa on SKY News where he referred to Thameelselven's own admission on SKY that ' relief and food supplies for the government are reaching the affected areas - amidst logistic difficulties in getting some supplies to various affected areas'.

Muttiah Muralitharan, cricketer and the ambassador for the UN's World Food Programme was quoted in a report by Charlie Austin in the Daily Mirror stating that, " Food Aid want last long, and its vital that what we have been given is used responsibly and fairly. Using World Food Programme volunteers to monitor distribution might be a good idea", he had suggested and emphasised that it was absolutely essential that everyone in Sri Lanka now unites over this crisis". If we can't re-unite now what hope is there over rebuilding the country?" had asked Muralitharan.

Sri Lanka, among other affected countries of Tsunami disaster, was the first to arrive at a solid programme on a governmental level, which has been already submitted to the Aid Agencies' perusal. President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge has promptly set up three task forces to rebuild and rehabilitate the destroyed national infrastructure. UN has now asserted that every dollar given to Sri Lanka on Tsunami Aid will be closely monitored during the reconstruction programme of the country.

Instead of fireworks, sirens, good wishes and laughter at the dawn of a new year, Sri Lankans, this time had to bury the dead, think of finding shelter for those who became homeless and displaced. Instead of dancing and merry making, the whole nation had to mourn the dead by lighting candles, oil lamps with prayers according to individual faiths.

The nature has clearly shown its might with the power of the ocean destroying lives and opening the eyes of those of us who are fortunate to be alive today. The mother nature, with one of her limbs, the great ocean, has taught us a good lesson to be remembered for the rest of our lives that we all belong to the human race and warned us simultaneously not to stoop to beastly level by being divided and killing each other but to elevate our minds and once more be united - not only for a few days or weeks until the Tsunami disaster fades away from our short memories , but for better and for ever.

In President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge's own words, " an ineluctable truth has been laid bare before us all. The mighty forces of nature have compelled us to learn a lesson that some of us refused for long to learn. We have to act together if we are to emerge from the ashes of this destruction."



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