I just got back to America–to a headline in my daily paper assuring me that Nike and Intel factories in Sri Lanka were spared in the tidal wave. To Jan Egeland, UN emergency relief coordinator, wasting time apologizing for calling rich countries “stingy.” To my TV news showing sexy swimsuit pictures of the Czech super-model who survived. And to this headline on CNN.com: “Tsunamis shatter celebrity holidays”
Tsunamis shatter what?
Nike factories? Celebrity holidays? Welcome home to America. Tens of thousands of people are dead and my country’s “free press” is deeply concerned about the fate of their shoes. Who will be Best Dressed this tsunami season?
Get your head out of your ass, America. I’m begging you.
Earthquakes and ocean furies are natural disasters, but decisions to spend billions on wars of conquest while ignoring simple measures that can save lives is not.
At least 80,000 people were killed by the tsunami that devastated coastlines from Indonesia to Somalia. Almost a third of the dead are children. Thousands are still missing. Millions are homeless. The drinking water is polluted. Bulldozers are digging mass graves.
Much of the destruction could have been prevented with a simple and inexpensive buoy system. Officials in Thailand and Indonesia say that an immediate public warning could have saved lives–but they didn’t know of the danger because there is no international system in place to track tsunamis in the Indian Ocean.
Such a system is not difficult or expensive to install. The detector buoys have been available for decades. The United States has had a monitoring system in place for more than half a century. Seismometers are scattered across the Northwest to detect and measure earthquakes that might spawn tsunamis. In the middle of the Pacific are six buoys equipped with sensors called “tsunameters” that measure small changes in water pressure and are programmed to automatically alert warning centers in Hawaii and Alaska.
Dr. Eddie Bernard, director of the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, says just a few buoys could do the job. Scientists wanted to place two more tsunami meters in the Indian Ocean, including one near Indonesia, but the plan had not been funded, said Bernard. The tsunameters cost only $250,000 each–a mere half million dollars could have provided an early warning system. Compare this to the $1,500,000,000 the U.S. spends every day to fund the Pentagon war machine.
Local South Asian governments had no real warning, but the U.S. gevernment did–and it failed to pass along the information. Within minutes of the 9.0 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Indonesia, U.S. scientists working with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration suspected that a deadly wave was spreading through the Indian Ocean. They did not call anyone in the governments in the area. Jeff LaDouce, an official in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said they e-mailed Indonesian officials, but that he didn’t know what happened after they sent the e-mails.
Just this afternoon I talked to my Dad in Singapore, my girlfriend in Ecuador & my mom in Mexico. In an era of instant communications–controlled in a large part by the U.S.–we can communicate with anyone anywhere whenever we like. It is beyond belief that the officials at the NOAA could not find any method to directly and immediately contact civilian authorities in South Asia. Even a few minutes warning would have given people a chance to seek higher ground. The NOAA had several hours notice before the first waves hit shore. Tim Walsh, geologic-hazards program manager for the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, said, “Fifty feet of elevation would be enough to escape the worst of the waves. In most places, 25 feet would be sufficient.” But the inhabitants of the area weren’t given the warning. As a result, television and radio alerts were not issued in Thailand until nearly an hour after the waves had hit and thousands were already dead. The failure to make any real effort to warn the people of the region is part of a pattern of imperial contempt and racism that has become the cornerstone of U.S. policies worldwide.
You’ll forgive me, then, if my heart isn’t with the celebrities and their holidays tonight.
Reporting from the International Action Center