Saturday, December 24, 2005

Tsunami anniversary commemorations begin

The one year anniversary of the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed tens of thousands of people is starting to be commemorated throughout the region. The latest estimate of the death toll is 216,000, according to the Associated Press; 223,000 according to the United Nations. The real number will never be known, probably. My only direct connection with the disaster came a couple of weeks afterwards. I called Microsoft to get an XP update disk, and was routed to an Indian call center. I transacted my business, and then asked whether the voice on the other end and his family were safe. He said (although they are not supposed to give out personal information) that yes, they were all safe. But, he was based in Madras, about 300 meters from where the tsunami hit the Indian coast.

The thing that gets me angry is the malfeasance of the governments in that region. They all knew what danger lurked under the crust in western Indonesia. The Indonesian government even has a Western-built monitoring station for Anak Rakata, the still-active remains of the volcano Krakatoa. Most of the governments in the Indian Ocean are rich enough to have purchased a buoy-based tracking system from some Western seismology firm. India is rich and scientifically developed enough to have built its own. They apparently just didn't care enough about the lives of their own citizens to heed the science and prepare.

I watched The Wave That Shook The World, the NOVA science TV special on the disaster. In it, a scientist at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center expressed regret that the Indian Ocean wasn't wired up to the extent that the Pacific was. The PTWC scientists detected the earthquake, but had no way of directly measuring or tracking the tsunami. The scientist, God bless him for his humanity, seemed a little too contrite for the gap in coverage. It wasn't his fault.

Well, now the Indian Ocean governments are finally getting their act together, along with some help from the Japanese. Something to be thankful for, on this grim anniversary.

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