More reflections on the tsunami (12/1/2005)

Predictably, those desperate to push their own self-interested agendas are keen to exploit the recent tsunami disaster for their own purposes.

The US's inevitable dumping of its GM contaminated food aid on the area, rather than giving the financial support to allow the purchase of non-GM foods available in the region, is one form of this.

Just as predictably, the pro-GM AgBioView list has already run a malicious article headlined, "Enviro Wackos Rejoice over Tsunami Devastation".

The article opens by claiming that, "some environmentalists are actually celebrating the tidal wave that killed nearly 200,000 people, saying it rid the coastal area of development and other forms of human contamination."

On reading on, however, one discovers that these "Enviro Whackos" are people like the Thai Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra - yes, that's right, the massively rich Thai businessman who recently proposed ending Thailand's GM moratorium! The Thai PM is a "Whacko", it seems, because he said the tsunami had "swept away unplanned and possible illegal building, creating an opportunity to regulate growth" during redevelopment.

We've also had the likes of Lord May, President of the Royal Society (the UK's national academy of science) trying to up the research budgets by calling for development assistance to be more tightly controlled by experts in "science, technology and innovation". Such spending, says May with timely spin, "is an investment against disasters".

But while we're being offered images of hi-tech driven innovation and development as the only security in the face of dangerous "nature", there are other conclusions that could be drawn from the tsunami.

Devinder Sharma pointed to this in his recent piece on the contribution to the disaster of the profit-driven destruction of natural eco-systems, including mangrove swamps.

More food for thought on the lessons of the tsunami comes courtesy of the indigenous people of the Andaman and Nicobar islands, who are thought to have escaped the tsunami thanks to traditional warning systems that interpret bird and marine animal behaviour (see item 2). There's also a related BBC Online news story (item 1) about how wildlife officials in Sri Lanka are reporting that despite the large loss of human life, there are few reported animal deaths.

Finally, don't forget Via Campesina's tsunami relief efforts. Via Campesina is a global alliance of peasant, family farmer, farm worker, indigenous and landless peoples organizations that works toward genuine agricultural reform. Via Campesina is raising funds for grassroots tsunami relief and rebuilding efforts coordinated directly by its member organizations in Southeastern Asia.

Visit Via Campesina's Online Donation Page
Learn More about Via Campesina's Efforts

1.Did animals have quake warning?
By Sue Nelson
BBC Science Correspondent

Wildlife officials in Sri Lanka have reported that, despite the loss of human life in the Asian disaster, there have been no recorded animal deaths.

Waves from the worst tsunami in memory sent floodwater surging up to 3.5km (two miles) inland to the island's biggest wildlife reserve.

Many tourists drowned but, to the surprise of officials, few dead animals have been found.

It has highlighted claims that animals may possess a "sixth sense" about danger.

Yala National Park in Sri Lanka is home to elephants, deer, jackals and crocodiles.

Sensitive to change

Praised for its conservation, the park is also considered one of the best places in the world to observe leopards.

It is now closed after floods damaged buildings and caused the deaths of tourists and employees of the park and lodge.

Debbie Martyr, who works on a wild tiger conservation programme on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, one of the worst-hit areas in Sunday's disaster, said she was not surprised to hear the animals had avoided the catastrophe.

"Wild animals in particular are extremely sensitive," she said.

"They've got extremely good hearing and they will probably have heard this flood coming in the distance.

"There would have been vibration and there may also
have been changes in the air pressure which will have alerted animals and made them move to wherever they felt safer."

There are many eyewitness accounts of birds and animals migrating before earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

The scientific evidence for a sixth sense is lacking, but if these reports are confirmed, they could add to the understanding of animal behaviour and possibly even be used in the future as an early warning system for humans.

2.Age old early warning systems saved Andaman tribes: ASI
Central Chronicle, Jan 4 2005


The five aboriginal tribes inhabiting the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, our last missing link with early civilisation, have emerged unscathed from the tsunamis because of their age old "warning systems".

"The tribals get wind of impending danger from biological warning signals like the cry of birds and change in the behavioural patterns of marine animals. They must have run to the forests for safety. No casualties have been reported among these five tribes," ASI Director Dr V R Rao told newsmen today.

This has promted the Anthropological Survey of India (ASI) to propose its immediate documentation to save coastal populations from similar disasters in future.

His team in the badly-hit islands reported the well being of all five aborigines tribes -- Jarwas, Onges, Shompens, Sentenelese and Great Andamanese.

Early warning systems developed by their forefathers and adapted successfully by the tribals must have sent the first alarm signals and given them time to run for safety, he said.

These tribe could be traced down to the mesolithic and upper paleolithic era (from 20000 to 60000 years ago), he said. They had inherited a wealth of indigenous knowledge that had not yet been recorded.

"Anthropologists have been recording these aspects for long. But the question is to properly document them and find means to create a national resource base upon which a coastal signalling system can be operated.

"We have proposed to the Centre to take up immediate documentation of these systems and geomorphological changes triggered by the tsunami since these would be fresh in the memory of the tribals now," Rao said.

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