Tuesday, December 28

It Seems a World Away, But Is It?

Immense devastation in the Indian Ocean with tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands of people dead, severe illness probable, economic devastation in the region accomplished -- it all seems far away to us here in the US.

We're happy to send all the relief we dare afford (we are, after all, in an expensive and necessary war) along with our prayers and relief workers. Do we, though, expect this tsunami tragedy to affect our lives? More important, will it? If so, how?

In his article titled Tsunamis: The Geopolitical Aftermath, Alan Adkisson puts the incident into perspective. First he points out
this tragedy pales in comparison to the cumulative impact of catastrophes that are happening all the time, in the same region. Regular flooding in India and Bangladesh, for example, affects millions of people every year. Thousands die every year. Some people live in the tops of trees for months at a time. Early this year, two-thirds of Bangladesh was under water.

One difference in this case, however, is that this disaster will have a tremendous economic impact on the region. The entire tourist industry of southeast Asia has gone, quite literally, down the drain. It will be years before those resorts can rebuild and possibly even more years before tourists will return, especially those thousands who managed to survive.

Adkisson writes, "In southern Thailand, that income served as an economic buffer between the Thai government in the north, and the Islamic insurgency in the south. Without that buffer, tensions are likely to grow (despite the recent "peace airdrop" of origami cranes), and regional rebels are likely to exploit that fact. Expect tough times for Thailand."

The geopolitical affect on the world will be immense. First, there's the massive relief effort involving the entire world. The BBC reports that relief workers call the devastation "beyond imagination." This will be the largest ever appeal for funding and relief aid. A UN donor and aid appeal summit is planned for the New Year, although individual nations are already sending their own donations.

These recovery efforts are also likely to pull India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand closer together in economic cooperation. Although they will need a lot of help from the rest of the world, there's strength in numbers and if they work together to build a future, the region may come into its own economically some day.

There will, undoubtedly, be an effort to put the area on a tsunami warning system as part of the recovery effort. Human nature being as it is, the resort hotels and homes will rise again on the beaches and the countries will repopulate. If there is a next time, surely there will be a warning system in place.

Adkisson believes the Chinese will take advantage of the situation to increase its presence in the region. If that should happen, the political repercussions should be interesting.

"Here is a scary but inescapable thought that absolutely must be reckoned with," he wrotes. "As awful and unprecedented as they were, the giant waves in SE Asia will likely be overshadowed by far greater disasters, natural and technological, as the world system continues to grow more crowded, fragile, and vulnerable in the coming years. The world may be filled with brilliant flares of innovation, but it is also filled with disasters waiting to happen -- and some of them undoubtedly will."

The argument for world overcrowding seems to be more fragile and vulnerable than the possibility when you consider that at this writing there are 60,000+ people dead as a result of the tsunami and the number is expected to double when disease takes hold in the region. Add deaths due to wars and various other causes and overcrowding doesn't seem to be a problem for the immediate future -- immediate in the sense of a generation or two.

Adkisson is worried about climate change disasters, as well, and seems to think we can do something about that. Although he doesn't say so, the implication I take from his statements is that he attributes global warming to fossil fuel emissions. Too many responsible scientists say that isn't so and even common sense makes heavy argument against it. The earth has been cooling and warming from the beginning of time and the latest warming has been going on in increments since the last Ice Age. Automobiles and hair spray had nothing to do with it then and likely have nothing to do with it now.

So what we can all do is pray for the souls of the dead and for health and comfort for the living. It is truly a massive tragedy that has befallen our southeast Asian brethren and our hearts, funds and prayers go out to them.

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