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Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Post Tsunami Stress Disorder

Okay, so I am in Chattanooga, TN, attempting to stay off the grid by unplugging from the matrix for a few days, visiting family, old haunts, the farm, and this tsunami has to happen right in the middle of it all.

My over-under prediction on the number of dead from the tsunamis alone: 150,000. Another 100,000 will die of disease, etc. Why? Is it because they did not get the early warning that those in Hawaii and in Japan would have received? Perhaps. Is it because a sea wall and outer barriers had not been built? Perhaps. Is it because the nations affected do not have adequate transportation for large scale evacuations? Perhaps.

The real reason this disaster has had such unbelieavable human cost is that the governments of many of the countries impacted by the event are among the most corrupt in the world (here's a map). By corruption I mean those in the government ensure their own enrichment at the expense of basic infrastructure - running water, sufficient supplies for an emergency, outer-barriers and sea walls, and, yes, early warning systems that cost only millions (not billions) of dollars.

From Transparency International The 2004 Corruption Perception Index (10 = very clean, 0 = very corrupt) listed:

Bangladesh: Tied 145 out of 145 CPI=1.5
Indonesia: Tied 133 out of 145 CPI=2.0
India: Tied 90 out of 145 CPI=2.8
Sri Lanka:: Tied 67 out of 145 CPI=3.5
Thailand: Tied 64 out of 145 (with Mexico) CPI=3.6
Malaysia: Tied 39 out of 145 (with Tunisia) CPI=5.0
Somalia: Not ranked
Maldives: Not ranked

To put these values in perspective, the United States came in at CPI=7.5 and Finland at 9.7.

One overarching problem I have with the "we are poor, you are rich, and therefore you are obligated to help us" argument is that most of the things that would have saved a lot of lives are not expensive endeavors. The countries involved have GDPs in the billions of dollars per year and government expenditures in the millions if not billions of dollars per year (CIA World Factbook Information). Therefore, it is not impossible for these governments to fund the types of safeguards that would have saved lives.

I understand, and empathize, with the argument that such tsunamis had not happened before and therefore any safeguarding against the unforeseeable future was unlikely to appeal to the local populace as they had more immediate needs. But these governments are all too often not looking out for the everyday needs of their population and are instead enriching a previleged elite. The brother-in-law of the local prefect could be enriched by building an outer-barrier instead of digging ditches and filling them in.

It is a shame that thousands die in situations like this, but three Category 4 hurricanes in the country of Florida did widespread damage but not widespread death. On top of that, the country of Florida didn't put their hand out to France - albeit it did to the countries of California, Texas, etc. Sen had it correct when he argued that public corruption is by far the worst enemy of mankind, especially in developing countries.

Not only do I hope those who perished rest in peace, but there should be a serious reflection on the local governance that allows for the conditions in which such disasters have such tremendous effects.

Finally, for those that seem to want to equate Sept. 11 with this disaster, please stop. Sept. 11 was unmeasurably worse because it was premeditated human vs. human murder whereas the tsunami disaster of 2004 was nature vs. man, with no malice aforethought.

Until later...

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