Devastation in Indonesia, photo USAID/CC

Devastation in Indonesia, photo USAID/CC   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Across the planet, ordinary people are feeling shock and profound sadness at the devastating loss of life in Indonesia from the tsunami.

But this horrific catastrophe also poses urgent questions over the failure of the Indonesian authorities to warn the population, and not to have a disaster relief plan in place.

21 tsunami-detecting buoys, donated to Indonesia a decade ago, were either not functioning or had been stolen.

A prototype sea-floor warning system hadn’t been deployed because the government wouldn’t pay for it.

A tsunami warning was issued by the country’s meteorological and geophysics agency but withdrawn. Moreover, it completely underestimated the size of the waves.

Some survivors say they did not receive text message tsunami alerts because the phone network was not maintained.

How is it that the money can’t be found for these essential safety measures when the rich in the cities live a life of luxury?

Locally, angry demonstrations have been taking place blaming the government for total incompetence in neglect of people’s needs – and, as in the past, these can have big political repercussions.

Survivors will also want assurance that international relief funds and resources go straight to where they are needed.

Past experience warns us that unscrupulous politicians, officials and businesses can exploit tragedies like this to line their pockets.

If the system can’t afford to look after people, then the people can’t afford the system. Public ownership of big business, and democratic, socialist planning of the wealth society produces, could easily pay for proper safety and communications infrastructure – rather than more ‘tax holidays’ for multinational corporations.

And survivors and workers in Indonesia should have democratic control over the allocation of resources in the relief effort, and in the development of society as a whole.