Monday, December 27, 2004

Different perspectives of the tsunami disaster in South Asia

The latest devastation in South Asia caused by tsunamis knows no bounds. The latest from BBC News: “The scale of devastation wrought by sea surges that killed about 23,000 people on Asia's shores is starting to emerge. The death toll is still climbing, thousands are missing and millions have been made homeless by the world's worst earthquake in 40 years. At least 10 countries have been affected, with Sri Lanka, Indonesia, India and Thailand among the worst hit. International aid efforts have begun amid fears that disease could spread through the disaster zone. Survivors may have little clean water or sanitation after Sunday's 9.0 magnitude earthquake sent huge waves from Malaysia to Africa. The latest I heard from CNN News is that this is the first historical record of such a massive tsunami disaster in the Indian Ocean – it is more prevalent in the Pacific Ocean. In addition, because the region already faces other problems and has scarce resources, funds were never devoted to a tsunami warning system. .” Also a report on the importance of having a warning system in place: “Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon has backed calls for a tsunami warning system in the Indian Ocean after Sunday's undersea earthquake. He was speaking after scientists said many of the 20,000 people killed by the sea surges could have been saved by an international monitoring network…Five of the countries hit by the towering waves that crashed into Asian and African coastlines are members of the Commonwealth…Seismologists in Australia have said the lack of a tsunami warning system in the Indian Ocean could have contributed to the scale of Sunday's disaster…The international warning system in the Pacific constantly monitors for signs that an earthquake has taken place under the ocean. It gives advance notice to coastal areas and low-lying islands that floods could be on the way, so that emergency plans can be activated…However, such systems are expensive and require close co-operation between neighbouring countries. For developing nations struggling to repair their battered infrastructure, those factors could prove a real obstacle to ensuring that such a disaster never takes place again.”

Could the tsunamis be an indication of global warming? From Informed Comment: “This particular tsunami was caused by an earthquake and was unrelated to climate change. But everyone should realize that global warming contributes to extreme weather events, causing more hurricanes and typhoons and stronger ones. Even in the year 2004 extreme weather events caused on the order of $100 billion in damage-- an unprecedentedly high figure and one due to rise. Giant waves are only one potential problem with global warming….As Naomi Oreskes pointed out in the Washington Post on Saturday, the scientific literature for the past decade has expressed no doubts about the reality of global warming or of human responsibility for some large portion of it. Although not all scientists are convinced, the scholarly literature where this matter is debated technically is characterized by broad consensus. The main doubts that are raised are in the mass media, for ulterior motives, by non-scientists. Moving to cleaner energy as soon as possible is the only way to prevent future tsunamis that will hit closer to home for Americans.”

Whenever a natural dissater hits the poorest areas of the world, I remember the Malthus’s Social Theory: “His essay points out that our ability to produce children will always outstrip our ability to provide energy for their survival. Population must be kept in line with what the society can produce in the way of sustenance, and every way available to keep this population in check (including birth control) has negative consequences for society…Malthus’ basic theory can be summarized as follows: Humankind has two basic needs: food and sex—one leading to the production of food and the other to the reproduction of children. But the power of reproduction is “indefinitely greater” than the power of production. If unchecked, Malthus maintained, population levels would double in size about every 25 years…However, food and other resources are not distributed equally in any human society. This means that the “positive checks” in the form of lowered life expectancy, has to be paid by the poor. Central to Malthus is a posited cyclical relationship between production and reproduction. An increase in productivity will lower the costs of food, thus making it cheaper for a family to have children. More children would live (or be allowed to live); fewer efforts would be made to prevent conception. Eventually, the rise in population would increase the demand for food, driving prices up, leading to hard times for the poor and—through the more efficient operation of population checks—a leveling off of population. The high price of provision, plus the lower wages for labor (because of the surplus of workers), would induce farmers to increase productivity by hiring more workers, putting more land under the plow, and using technology to increase productivity. This increase in productivity, of course, would loosen the constraints to reproduction—it would continue the cycle. Malthus recognized that the cycle is not steady-paced. Wars, disease, economic cycles, technological breakthrough, the lag between change in the price of food and money wages, and government action (such as the Poor Laws) can all temporarily disrupt or spur the cycle (Winch, 1987: 22). The “oscillation” between the growth of subsistence and population, and the misery that it causes, has not been noted in the histories of mankind because these are histories of the higher classes. Nonetheless, Malthus maintains, there is a continuing cycle between population and production—a cycle that necessitates the operation of severe checks on population growth.”

Also an interesting perspective from Poynteronline: “Will this story get as much coverage as the Scott Peterson case?

Will U.S. media invest its mighty resources into a story that is far from home, affects mostly people of other nations, and is relentlessly painful to witness?

Will media organizations –- especially those that have cut back foreign bureaus -- redeploy staff to cover and stay with this story for more than its first days?

Will newsrooms that have adopted a "hyper-local" approach to news be willing to blow up that strategy in the face of a story that should transcend our parochial interests?

Will newsroom leaders see in this story the opportunities to bring readers and viewers closer to people, places, and issues they may never have known?

Will they reject the notion that Americans are interested in the story only in proportion to the number of U.S. citizens directly affected?

Will local television affiliates demand that their networks provide continuing and fresh pictures from overseas, so viewers won't see recycled images and assume the story is static, rather than dynamic?

Will networks send their top reporters, even anchors to the scene? What a powerful message that would send about the importance of this tragedy so far from our shores.

Will local journalists find creative ways to localize the story while still connecting it to the major event? Will local meteorologists apply their teaching skills to this story as effectively as they explain hurricanes and snowstorms?

Will journalism organizations carefully vet the charities to which they direct citizen contributions, so donors can be confident their dollars are in the hands of good stewards?

All these questions speak to newsroom leadership, both formal and informal. Who is guiding the decisions about this story in your newsroom right now? Chances are some of your veteran staff may be taking holiday time off. Who, then, is stepping up to offer a vision for remarkable coverage right now? Who is thinking globally, locally, and journalistically?

In Iraq from the Christian Science Monitor: “A proposal floated by the US government and several prominient US senators Sunday to 'adjust' the outcome of next month's election in Iraq to ensure more Sunni representation has been rejected by the Iraq Electoral Commission (IEC). The Daily Star of Lebanon reports that IEC spokesman Farid Ayyar described the US proposal as "unacceptable" interference, saying: "Who wins, wins. That is the way it is. That is the way it will be in the election." Meanwhile, the BBC reports that Iraq's main Sunni party announced Monday it would withdraw from the January 30 election, all but ensuring an assembly overwhelmingly dominated by Shiite representatives…On Sunday, The New York Times reported that US officials in Baghdad had already raised the issue of special seats for top Sunni vote-getters with an aide to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's top Shiite cleric. The US is reportedly afraid that if the new assembly doesn't reflect the ethnic and racial mix of Iraq, then sectarian violence will continue, and the current insurgency will grow even stronger. As if to underline this point, CNN reports that a car bomb exploded at the gate of the home of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Mr. Hakim is also the head of Iraq's largest Shiite political bloc of parties, and is expected to be one of the dominant figures in Iraq after the election. Although Hakim was not hurt by the blast, the Associated Press reports that at least 15 others were killed. Last week, the BBC reported that attacks on top Shiite clerics and around many Shiite holy places like Najaf and Karbal are believed to be attampts by Sunni militants to provoke a Shiite reaction that would undermine both the January election and reconstruction efforts. So far Shiite leaders have called for calm and order after these attacks.

On the lighter side, I watched Veer-Zaara, the latest Bollywood flick & I have to say I am really impressed by the different turn some directors & producers are taking with stories. What struck me in this film and the brilliant story in Phir Milenge is the broad-minded approach to controversial issues and the use of legal institutions and not violence to bring about change and justice. Speaking of which, I have decided to work my fellowship at Citizens for Global Solutions whose vision is “a future in which nations work together to abolish war, protect our rights and freedoms, and solve the problems facing humanity that no nation can solve alone. This vision requires effective democratic global institutions that will apply the rule of law while respecting the diversity and autonomy of national and local communities.” I will be leaving for DC on January 24th and intend to work at the organization for 9 months, so I’m super excited about my new adventure!