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A Wave of Questions
Putting a Disaster in Context

by Mickey Z.
December 30, 2004

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How does one comprehend the magnitude, impact, and context of a disaster that may claim more than 100,000 lives? But enough about the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

The recent earthquake/tsunami in Asia raises more questions than answers.

Here's a start:

What's the political context of the disaster? Reports on the Asian tsunami typically ignore the crucial political back stories in volatile areas like Aceh and Sri Lanka...and how "aid" efforts will be exploited for geo-political gain. Without such context, the coverage is woefully incomplete and irresponsible. Yesterday, Democracy Now did delve deeper into the situation in Aceh...the military repression, the role of Exxon-Mobil, and now the earthquake/tsunami. Do some research and see for yourself.

Is the U.S. stingy? Even if we were to trust the estimates of $1 billion in aid eventually coming from the U.S., that number pales in comparison to the tens of billions being spent in Iraq to keep the world safe for petroleum. At this writing, the U.S. has spent an average of $9.5 million every hour on the war and occupation of Iraq. In a global sense, the U.S. spends $1 million dollars a minute on war...a percentage of which helps create Third World poverty and the inability to deal with natural disasters.

Why was there no warning? There was warning. Here's how the folks at Democracy Now describe what happened: "Within minutes of the tsunami forming on Sunday, U.S. officials at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii began tracking the waves. But the scientists claimed they had no one to contact in the Indian Ocean region about the possible danger. One exception was the British-owned island of Diego Garcia that houses a major US Naval base. The Independent of London reports that U.S. officials in Hawaii did warn Diego Garcia about the possible tsunami and the island suffered no major damage."
Could any of the affected countries done anything? It might have helped if U.S. scientists in Hawaii hadn't initially calculated the earthquake at a magnitude of 8.0 (ten times weaker than in actuality). "Based on it being an 8.0, we assumed the damage would be confined to Sumatra and would be a local tsunami event," said Charles McCreery, director of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, "one that strike shore within minutes of the event." But even so, we must never forget that profits outweigh people. An official in Thailand's meteorology department told the Guardian of London, "A proper warning was not given. If we had given the warning and then it hadn't happened, then it would have been the death of tourism in those areas."

Will it happen again? Can it happen here? As I sit here in New York, with a fault line running across 125th St., I need only remember that 200 million years ago the earth was one gigantic continent.

Where does this disaster rank for that area? The continent of Asia is no stranger to natural events like this. A 1942 hurricane in Bengal, India killed 40,000. A 1970 cyclone Bangladesh claimed 300,000 lives. Going back to 1556, 830,000 died in an earthquake in Shaanxi, China. August 1931 saw China's Huang He River flood and kill 3,700,000.
As for man-made disasters, Hurricane Lyndon helped kill 1,000,000 or so in Indonesia in 1965. Hurricanes Ike, Jack, Lyndon, and Dick wrecked havoc throughout Southeast Asia for decades...with millions upon millions dead. We can't forget Hurricanes Gerald and Jimmy...responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths in East Timor in the late 70s. The list goes on and on.

How can I help? If you're trying to figure out a way to help but do not want your dollars sucked into a huge bureaucracy, you can help the Indonesian area of Aceh via the East Timor Action Network.

Another way to help (in a more abstract manner) is to see past the corporate media coverage of the tragedy and educate yourself on the deeper issues. The more we know about the world, the harder it is to fool us. Donate at the link given above. Donate...then educate, agitate, and demonstrate.

Here in the U.S., we can't honestly say we haven't been warned...

Mickey Z. is the author of four books, most recently: The Seven Deadly Spins: Exposing the Lies Behind War Propaganda (Common Courage Press). He can be found on the Web at

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