The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent


Miles beneath the waters of the Indian Ocean, a massive piece of the Earth's crust had heaved, buckled and shifted. Along a fracture zone hundreds of miles long, it moved, releasing pent-up energy equivalent to the power of more than 1,000 atomic bombs. The waters above reared up and crashed down, creating a wave that was now racing across the ocean at 500 mph - Barbara Demick

Anthony McIntyre • 2 January 2005

Normally, on those rare occasions when our home heating system packs in I fume and vent spleen on the dubious joys of modern technology. When it happened on a rain and snow swept New Year's Day, there was little else to do but be philosophical. We were hardly in a predicament - roof over our heads, an electric fire and oil filled radiator providing alternatives sources of heat; there was plenty of food and fresh water. Well-fed, well-sheltered and dry, try telling somebody just hit by a tsunami that we had a problem and they would think that despite being in a worldly Heaven we could still find something to complain about. How do you tell a woman in Banda Aceh out searching for her eleven children whisked away by the tsunami that your oil central heating going on the blink is a problem?

This time last year it was Bam in Iran. Now it is the turn of twelve other counties of which Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand were the hardest hit. Events like this put the world into some sort of perspective. More than 80,000 dead in Indonesia, 4,500 in Thailand, 28,000 in Sri Lanka, 10,000 in India and 27,000 in the other countries affected. The death toll has now surpassed that from a cyclone that devastated Bangladesh in 1991, which claimed the lives of almost 140,000 people, prompting U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to state, 'this is an unprecedented global catastrophe, and it requires an unprecedented global response.'

Great effort has gone in to raising funds for the victims. Our door rapped the other evening. I answered it to find a middle aged local woman standing there with a can, collecting money 'for the people in Asia.' Whatever coins were in my pocket I coughed up, partly out of appreciation of local initiative as my wife had already made a donation through credit card to one of the larger aid agencies. The collector, facing down the wintry elements, didn't look to see what was dropped into it, being content that something rattled her can and that people were contributing. In Belfast city centre Black Santa hit the streets again, having earlier pulled off his winter wear after braving the elements to raise money as part of his annual charity appeal. Even though, as Celia McGee reported, 'it's hard to get an Irishman to admit there are more horror-soaked places than Belfast', the city responded. At one point it was reported that Black Santa was taking in £8,000 an hour. Although the Guardian asked rhetorically, 'how can you send aid to a town which has ceased to exist?', every penny of it is needed. While the dead are beyond any help, the problem for the living was underlined by the World Health Organization which stated that 'between three and five million people in the region are unable to access the basic requirements they need to stay alive - clean water, adequate shelter, food, sanitation and healthcare.'

In the midst of this the Daily Telegraph issued a damning indictment of the forces of capitalism:

The indifference of capital to human suffering could hardly be better illustrated than the reaction, or lack of it, from the world's stock exchanges to the Asian catastrophe. It was never likely to have the same impact on Wall Street as the World Trade Centre attack, but the sight of even the local stock exchanges in the Far East shrugging it off will have puzzled many … Few will have been insured, and most of the destroyed property will be easily replaced. It's unlikely that the total financial cost will even make the top 10 of recent catastrophes, since the largest structures in the path of the tsunami are likely to have survived without serious damage. It's an old truism that catastrophes are good for insurance companies, and this one could hardly be better timed, as so many policies fall in at the year-end. Premiums will rise, and more people will buy cover. Life is cruel indeed.

In tune with such a dubious economic philosophy the United States - the leader of world capitalism - initially offered what the New York Times described as a miserly $15 million: 'half of what Republicans plan to spend on the Bush inaugural festivities.' It has since been upped to $350 million.

If the response of capital was poor, it was nevertheless consistent with the lack of social investment in the devastated region prior to the tsunami. The Los Angeles Times reported that government officials had long been advised to establish warning systems. It all went unheeded. One specialist in natural risk pointed out, 'it often doesn't take much to escape a Tsunami; it's enough to run ten minutes away from the beach.' But as Gérard Dupuy in Libération contended, 'you have to know the wave is coming.' He added:

The big insurance companies, concerned about their stock prices, have let it be known that they did not have important commitments in the disaster-stricken countries. And for that reason, these countries were not only totally devoid of seismic sensors and dense communication systems to sound the alarm, but also, naturally, of the most elementary insurance system.

Tsunamis, like earthquakes, may be natural events. But the disasters that they leave in their wake are hardly natural. Unless, that is, you believe that it is natural for a small percentage in the world to accrue the bulk of its resources for itself while the majority can team up with the devil in the hindmost. If the human species was not equipped to harness the forces of nature, humanity would still be in the caves. Proper social organisation may not stop natural events but it can build adequate fortifications to ensure that such events do not become disasters on the scale witnessed in Asia. The biggest obstacle to be overcome here is the tsunami of greed.




Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters + Archives

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

2 January 2005

Other Articles From This Issue:

The Thing About History
Tom Luby

Do Not Be Afraid to Face the Truth
Mick Hall

Past Time to Deliver an Outcome
Davy Adams

Reclaiming Irish
Dr. John Coulter

Anthony McIntyre

Response to Anti-Semitism
Brian Kelly

23 December 2004

The Spectre of Imprisonment
Marian Price

Bad Santa
Anthony McIntyre

Blunkett's Interment Law Struck Down
Eamonn McCann

Trust Us, It's Not What It Looks Like
Brian Mór

ARN & Street Seen: End of the Year Comments from Davy Carlin
Davy Carlin



The Blanket




Latest News & Views
Index: Current Articles
Book Reviews
The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
Republican Voices