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Castle Kaneloon

Disaster Relief: A Change in Attitude

"You see the world at it's best when it responds to disasters"
Jan Egeland, U.N. Under secretary-general for Humanitarian affairs - Dec 2004

     Man's progression through the 20th century to the level of technological superiority achieved by the turn of the century was meteoric and generally speaking, beneficial. The race engaged by certain emerging nations, such as Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (aka the BRICS countries), to close the divide on leading nations was just as impressive but filled with problems and failures. Certain judged these problems and failures unavoidable, saying that any resulting changes to the ecological environment of certain regions of the planet, was a necessary evil if it meant an improvement in the quality of life for the populations concerned.

Some benevolent western thinkers even said that it was unreasonable to expect emerging countries to apply the same ecological standards as leading nations. It was the equivalent of asking emerging countries to stop their economic growth because the CO2 gases they were expelling was adding to the volumes already being rejected by leading countries, signatory, or not, to protocols such as Kyoto, and who having astutely found a loophole in the protocol, were busy buying Greenhouse gas quotas smaller countries would never fulfill.

With the dawn of the 21st Century Mankind was beginning to understand the need for a cohesive world body to set the regulatory standards needed to contain the changing climate greenhouse gases are in part responsible for. Programmes such as the ESA's Envisat program and the Nasa's Terra program where set up to study the effects of man's actions on the climate. But however scientifically important these programmes are they can't actually stop what has already begun. The desertification of large areas of North-west China and the decimation of millions of square kilometres of tropical forests, in favour of vast fields of monoculture crops used for the production of Biofuel, is already well underway. Fortunately, China, as an example, having understood the long-term impact this will have on their economy, is starting to undertake actions, namely, to slow down and even reverse desertification.

The Dec 26th, 2004 Tsunami disaster had at least one positive result. After many global meetings, from Kyoto to Cancun, via Montreal, world powers started mulling over what would happen to their economies if such disasters happened at home.
If the Dec 2004 Tsunami showed the World's population the power and devastation of disasters, Hurricane Katrina brought home once and for all - especially to those who thought otherwise - that such disasters can happen to anyone, anywhere in the world, even in countries hitherto untouched by such mega-disasters.

Bad News Carries Fast

     If news of disasters had always inspired awe to those in distant, temperate places, devoid of extreme weather phenomena, this changed forever with the Dec 2004 Tsunami disaster. Never before had a disaster received so much global coverage so fast. In 1991, and for the 01st time in history, the world watched live on cable TV as coalition forces waged war in Iraq. In 2004, news of the Tsunami disaster sped around the world as it happened. Not by CNN but by the hundreds of mobile telephones living the horror as it happened.

Hundreds of videos captured "Live" the surge of water sweeping people away who were standing on the beach, people sitting on walls and clinging to trees. What was really phenomenal was that in the same way as the videos of the disaster sped around the world help, support and money was, thanks to instantaneous communications, speeding to the disaster zone. Without political procastination, a technological accomplishment was actively and instantaneously bringing help to the victims! A second consequence of this disaster was that one of the region's environmental projects was put on the fast track: The Indian Ocean's equivalent of the Pacific Tsunami Warning System.

Fortunately, as never before in mankind's history, the planetary wave of solidarity that followed the Dec 2004 disaster helped accelerate the subsequent awakening of a global awareness and brought back into the spotlight some of the region's long-standing environmental problems. The fact that a lot of western victims counted among the dead and injured may, or may not, have made a difference. The fact also that several billions of dollars were raised or promised and actually - and very visibly - arrived at destination to help reconstruct the region, without being highjacked or re-routed for other spurious purposes may also have helped.

The problem was then to make sure that the funds were correctly distributed. But there several problems became apparent:

  1. 1. Certain governments often preffering to dedicate time and money on military projects or regional political strategies neglect constructing or maintaining local infrastructures. So, having accomplished the feat of crossing oceans unhindered, the aid couldn't actually get to the disaster zone some 300 kilometres further up the road because there was no road.
  1. 2. With all the aid agencies in the world rushing to the relief zone and claiming priority over funds, material and local infrastructures the situation became unmanageable.
  1. 3. It's not because Westerners may go on holiday to an emerging country that they feel have the right to tell these countries how to run their business. This is where international organisations such the UN play an important role. However, It's equally important for states, even the "Hermit" ones to understand that in a world of instant news that bad news carries fast, especially when other people's interests are at stake.

© N.Richards Nov2007