Thursday, November 10, 2005

Tsunami and Earthquake: Educational Materials

Yesterday I was the guest lecturer/moderator in a 1-credit Environmental Science seminar being taught this fall by a colleague at Lehigh. The topic was the social and geopolitical fall-out from the Tsunami, particularly concerning India's changing role as a regional power. I referred to the following articles:

On the prospect of a regional alert system

On the UN's response

The Indonesian Government's suppression of the Guerilla movement in Aceh

More on Aceh

Ashutosh Sheshabalaya, on India's overlooked role in providing immediate military aid in Sri Lanka

I know I'm not particularly qualified to talk about these things, but it's an interesting challenge (and a nice change) to do this kind of thing every so often. The students asked good, and difficult questions, many of which involve the structure of disaster relief funding at the UN. For instance, how much do they have budgeted for this annually? What are the prospects of creating a permanent UN "Rapid response team" that is specialized for natural disasters?

It's difficult to have a discussion of the Tsunami this fall without thinking of the South Asian Earthquake, so we talked about that too -- with emphasis on the insufficient aid response. We even got into a bit of discussion on the Avian Flu vaccine issue (containing any outbreak of human to human transmissible Avian Flu would require massive international coordination).

* * * *
And I'm participating in a public seminar at Lehigh on the Earthquake at lunch today (yes -- a busy week!). For that, I'm not going to present an argument (hard to think of anything original to say), but I am offering a slideshow of photos culled from the web, some of them from News sources, and some from amateur photos Flickr.

A working draft of the slideshow is here (6 MB Powerpoint file). Educational use only, please (I will be taking the PPT file down after a few days.)

I tried to balance newsy/informative photos with more emotional photos showing people reacting to events. I was hoping to organize the photos to tell some kind of story, but there are just too many things going on at once, including: raw human suffering; rampant destruction of buildings, roads, and bridges; the large-scale relief effort; political shenanigans; as well as scenes of everyday life as it continues (and must continue) for the people in the affected region.

So the photos are a little chaotic (no single narrative), but perhaps the chaos might be useful in challenging the mass-media's approach to natural disaster -- which tends to emphasize sensationalism (look at these poor people!) at the expense of analysis.


Vikash Singh said...

There are two comments I would like to make regarding this article.

(1) On the politics of Tsunami Relief
I recently came back from a 5 week Tsunami Relief work in Galle, Sri Lanka. I gave out prescription eyeglasses and looked for cataract(which was followed by a paid operation upon diagnosis) with the tsunami victims as well as the local population. I cannot speak for other Tsunami affected regions, but in the case of Sri Lanka the following is true:

(1) Unlike other Tsunami affected countries, Sri Lanka had no financial nor numerical limit on the amount of money and the number of NGOs, respectively, which could come into Sri Lanka to give aid in the affected regions.
(2) What followed were numerous NGOs. An NGO works in the following manner: first find an area which needs your help and resources, go to that area, help out and take pictures of such actions, and finally go back to your home country and use the pictures to further fund yourself.
(3) These NGOs, upon entering Sri Lanka, found themselves in areas with numerous other NGOs. There was a lack of coordination by the government and poor organization led to numerous problems.
(4) First the government taxed all goods, even if they were NOT COMPETING with the local produced Sri Lankan goods just to make money. The NGOs when distributing these goods such as sewing machines and boats, due to the language barrier and lack of governmental organization, ended up distributing the goods into the wrong hands. The goods as a result never reached the tsunami victims and instead made their way into the black market via other persons.

In the case of Sri Lanka, I blame the government for the lack of organization which has led to little or no improvement in the situation of the tsunami victims. In other countries where there was a limit on the amount of financial help, like Indonesia, the situation has forced a truce with the separatists and brought about peace. On the contrary, In Sri Lanka situations have remained the same between the separatists Tamil Tigers and the majority Singhala people. Although the creation of the Tamil Tigers can be attributed to a certain Indian political demigod named Indira Gandhi (nee Nehru)....well that's another story.

(2)On "sensationalism" in photojournalism
Sensationalism is a necessary advent of photojournalism, without it the speedy eye of the average reader dismisses the occurrence in the newspaper as a banal one. Thorough analysis should follow such an image in an article - there should be no doubts about that. However, in order to draw attention of the reader such an image is necessary. Furthermore, showing images of a middle class individual who, even after the disaster, is capable of rebuilding himself/herself will never yield itself to news because this individual has not suffered as tragically as a poor individual who has nothing after the disaster. The "sensationalism" you refer to is a necessary arm of the mass-media. If the images were of status-quo wouldn't the audience greatly diminish?

Vikash Singh

12:27 PM  

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