Tsunami and a Ray of Hope

by Satish Tandon, December 2004

The Asian Tsunami that wreaked havoc only a day after Christmas in Indonesia, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, Maldives and some other countries will remain etched in our minds as the greatest natural global disaster ever to have struck humankind. More than 150,000 deaths, several tens of thousands missing, and millions left homeless. Asked by a TV reporter what he thought of this disaster and how it could be explained as part of the divine plan, a bishop here in the UK admitted frankly it had shaken his own belief in God.

Eight days after disaster struck, I see a ray of hope for this world. For the first time in living memory, a disaster of global magnitude has provoked a global response. All over the world people, governments, international organizations, aid agencies and all kinds of groups have felt the pain and are giving generously to help those who are affected, and for rehabilitation of the coastal communities. Many governments have even said that money is not a limiting factor. I will not quote the individual figures for each country, and these figures are rising by the day, but it is a matter of extreme satisfaction that more than 1.5 billion dollars has been already pledged one week after the tsunami.

The global response to tsunami also includes dispatch of American, British and Indian ships, helicopters, transport planes, and forces to disaster stricken areas in Sri Lanka, Sumatra, Maldives and Thailand. This is war. If the millions of tsunami survivors in the coastal areas of these countries have to be saved from disease and hunger and thirst, aid has to reach them and be distributed on a war footing. And who can be better prepared than the army, with its discipline and resources, to accomplish this.

I now see a ray of hope. I see that there are other things, nobler things, which armies can do, and do better. I also see that army personnel feel happier saving people rather than killing them. I see that people anywhere do not mind sharing and giving generously to those not so fortunate. I see that governments from all continents for the first time showed their ability to respond rapidly to a crisis of global proportions, and their capacity for humanitarian intervention.

Waging peace is cheaper than waging war. And waging war on poverty and hunger is cheaper than waging war on people. In responding the way he did, even though somewhat belatedly, Mr. Bush may have recovered some lost moral ground and proved for the first time his claim to be a compassionate conservative. One can only wonder why such initiatives, wisdom, and political acumen were not visible in Darfur, in Bosnia, and in other equally grave situations. Investing in people, peace and environment is, one would think, obviously more attractive and easier to justify than investment in arms and war. That awareness, perhaps, has finally dawned upon us.

No one can blame the bishop for momentarily losing faith in God. Anybody would. But I think God may have had a hidden agenda. If the spirit of feeling, sharing, giving, co-operating, responding and affirmative action that has been generated in the tsunami's aftermath continues to guide us, we would have created and left a better world for our children and posterity.