Tsunami early warning – the failure of capitalism

CAPITALIST GOVERNMENTS worldwide are now promising to set up an Indian
Ocean tsunami early warning network by 2006, for as little as $20 million-$30
million. Was the risk of this catastrophic event so tiny that they could be
excused for not having set up a warning system before? No!

Jon Dale

Although 80% of the world’s tsunamis occur in the Pacific, they have been
recorded in the Indian Ocean too. Significant tsunamis followed previous
earthquakes around Sumatra. After the 1883 volcanic eruption of Krakatoa,
waves up to 40 meters high took nearly 40,000 lives along the coasts of
Sumatra and Java.

No advance warnings were possible then, but with electronic instruments,
satellite communications and computer technology earthquakes can now be
quickly detected. The risk of tsunamis can be rapidly calculated and passed to
all countries in their path.

The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Executive Council, "strongly
stressed" in 2002, "the need to modernise and improve the sea-level network in
order to ensure the best possible early detection of tsunami waves."

The Council warned that "lack of adequate funding and staff to meet the
needs of the programme was affecting the tsunami warning network" and called
for increased investment.

The Pacific Ocean Warning Centre has offered to help until the new system
is operational. This Centre detected the 26 December earthquake but had no
addresses of Indian Ocean authorities to contact.

For the lack of such a tiny sum, $20-30 million, tens of thousands lost
their lives. Twice as much will be spent on George Bush’s inauguration


High-technology warning systems are only part of disaster prevention. It is
also vital that those at risk, on or near the beaches, know the dangers of
tsunamis, the warning signs and what to do if they see them. A public
education programme is needed, with posters, leaflets and marked escape routes
to higher ground.

Effective emergency plans are vital to pass on warnings from an
international centre to those immediately at risk. With TV, radio, email,
telephones, sirens and trained volunteers on motorbikes or bicycles with
megaphones or whistles, those at risk could be rapidly alerted and rush

The Thai and Indian governments received some warning on 26 December but
either ignored it or had no effective means of passing it on. Fear of
upsetting the tourist industry paralysed any response from the Thai
meteorological unit that received the Pacific warning centre message.

All the region’s right-wing corrupt governments have been exposed as
completely unable to protect local people, or even the area’s businesses.

Capitalism is concerned with its short-term profits and cannot plan for the
future. International co-operation between socialist states would ensure that
investment was prioritised for disaster planning. With warning systems,
education and defences the effects of natural disasters can be mitigated.

Sometimes deaths may be totally avoidable. At other times, they can be
minimised. Many of the 150,000 lost in the Indian Ocean were as much victims
of capitalism’s failures as of the tsunami.