Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Tsunami - Dec 26th 2004

Dec 25th started of as a peaceful morning for, my family and me. We were at the Hotel Ashoka just outside of Pondicherry. Having spend 2 days there, my sister, kids and wife wanted to spend another day, given that 26th Sunday was also an holiday. Well i could have, but i had to conduct an interview in the city.
Good call there, because the next day Tsunami hit the beaches here, and most of the hotel was washed out by the waves. My sister and brother-in-law wanted to take the boat out into the sea again, after the cool ride we had on Friday. And the plan was to have done that, if we had stayed an extra day. The kids were playing out in the garden by the beach, based on the timing the waves hit the shore, they may have just been doing that again on the 26th. I know people have had closer calls, but this was ours.

Anyway, the point i am writing about was the reaction to the Tsunami. Within 24hrs of the massive waves lashing and destroying the coastal TamilNadu, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the Govt of India and TamilNadu moved their all the resources and were involved in a massive search, rescue, recovery and settlement operation never before seen and experienced in India. It was not all perfect, all the different agencies did have some issues working together. And things were compounded by many private and NGOs working towards the same objective, albeit without coordination. But in the end, there was only an issue of too much help and too much food and tons and tons of clothes. The teams didnot wait for approvals or red-tapes to be clipped, they were set in motion from the zero hour. The only issue in the case of Tusnami was, it took about 2-3 hrs to realise that a tsunami had hit the coast of India.

What still bothers me is how a Tsunami struck Andaman and Nicobar islands around 7am in the morning of 26th Dec, destroyed an Indian Air Force base and the country didnt wake up for another 4-6 hrs to react to it. Ya, ya, we have never had a Tsunami ever hit the coast of India. We have never seen anything like this before. But damn it, an air force base was completely destroyed. How the hell didnt the senior Govt officials hear about that ? And when they did what were they thinking ?
These were the thoughts i had. I compared this to the reaction in the US during 9/11. Where again there were so many questions ? But then the US is not bordered by countries like Pakistan and China, that is Air Force has to be monitoring all voilations of air space, so carefully. Anyway, i felt that India needs to learn a lot from the US about how to manage crisis management, and about FEMA etc.

Wow. What a mistake ? You rave about things you dont know. From far, everything looks perfect. Its only when you get close, you can actually the mole on the face. Too bad New Orleans had to suffer this ordeal. But i am sure the situation wouldnt have been greatly different for other parts of the country. But having said that, i wouldnt put it past the Federal officials in the US to look it as taking extra steps to help the poor and disabled, specially black poor and disabled people. I am absolutely convinced that the outrage would have been greater and higher if this problem had happened in some place in upstate New York or New Hampshire.

In retrospect, i think there is a lot that the US has to learn from India and countries that handled the Tsunami problem. In India, just like in the US there is a natural calamity every year. This year, less than 8 months from the Tsunami, was the Bombay floods. Where the disaster was more man made than natural, but the response was still faster and quicker. In many cases, being the superpower doesnt necessarily mean you have a solution for every problem.

I hope that the US, Feds, FEMA etc learn from this experience and sharpen their skills and increase their sensitivity to these kind of issues. In this day and age, every life is precious, be it poor or disabled. Or is it ?

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