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Monday, December 27, 2004
  Disasters

The travel advisories I usually write about were, as expected, unnecessary. It was a generally quiet Christmas in Indonesia, celebrated both spiritually and materially.

Then news arrived yesterday of the massive devastation caused by the largest earthquake in 50 years and the resulting tsunami, seemingly the largest since the eruption of Krakatau in 1883.

Indonesia, situated in the Ring of Fire, is prone to volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis. One wonders if the tragic death toll is not also a man-made disaster. Earthquakes are recorded on the Richter scale to the nearest decimal point, and yesterday's was 8.9, and this information is immediately available through satellite connections. Where was the early warning system?

And that must be a purely rhetorical question. In Aceh and India, the majority killed and lost were fishermen and their dependents living on subsistence incomes. These people do not have the so-called benefits of modern communications.

As Brandon of Java Jive reports, there is no way of contacting tourists in Thailand and Sumatra either. Tourists may wish to remain deliberately incommunicado, diving, snorkeling and sunbathing, although one could expect those working in the tourism industry to have ready access to communications.

There is, of course, a correlation between poor communities and tourism. Paradise on Earth is often perceived as a secluded palm fringed beach. Until the advent of jumbo jets and the tourism industry, these are the homes of poor fishermen. Displaced, firstly by backpackers' bungalows and later by exclusive resorts, if they are lucky they get employed by the new industry.

Perhaps the luckiest yesterday were those who had to go to the cities to support their families.

Residents of Jakarta are seemingly immune from natural disasters. Brandon and I may live "only 2 miles from the coastline in North Jakarta" but, because Jakarta lies on a coastal plain, we rarely feel tremors and the annual floods are the result of greed, the building of housing complexes and shopping malls on land designated as green areas in the now corrupted city plans.

Check Rajan's blog for links to other Asian bloggers reporting the major story of 2004 and the Jakarta Post for regular updates of the Indonesian situation.

PS. 3pm. Family friends are still unable to contact their family in Banda Aceh.
 

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10:30 a.m.
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