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New Year in the Sign of the Tsunami


PressInfo # 206

 December 30, 2004


Jan Oberg & Gudrun Schyman, TFF Board &
Christina Spännar, TFF co-founder

Read also PressInfo 207 about the real tsunami scandal 

Perhaps Mother Nature is angry? If so, she has good reasons. The incomprehensible proportions of the human tragedy in Asia offers us the most serious opportunity for decades to rethink deeply and with compassion how we act, what we do and how we make priorities on our common Earth.

If instead of military security, human security had been the main paradigm, we would probably not have seen anything like this death and destruction. If governments had had a reasonably objective analysis of what threatens not only their own countries but humankind and the Earth - and prepared for it - the rescue work would have been better prepared. If politics and economics were about human beings and welfare, not about power and profit, more people would be alive today.

And if the world was operating less on male-dominated thinking, chances are that there would have been a clearer understanding of the non-sustainability of so-called system "rationality" and an emphasis, instead, on human rationality.

Mother Nature has all reason to be angry because we are doing the wrong things to Her and to each other. Perhaps the tsunami is a sign of what is coming, an early warning to us all that we must change our ways and stop being so narrow-minded and short-sighted? A sign at the end of the old year that, in order to survive, we must change our priorities and policies and make them compatible with the Earth, with permanence instead of fleetingness.


Autumn leaves under the water,
In memory of the victims of the tsunami
Tofukuji Temple, Kyoto
@ Jan Oberg 2004


Human security versus military security

Rich and big powers are ready to fight wars, including nuclear wars, within minutes of warning. But there was no warning for the poor people in Asia, no thought for their human security. We hear talk about humanitarian intervention and about the "need" for soldiers to help out in humanitarian catastrophes. But most governments seem to know neither how to handle anything like this tsunami nor its aftermath.

While the world, the U.S. in particular, spends grotesque sums on "fighting" terrorism - never a big problem in terms of human losses - and now only produces more terrorism, it pays no serious attention to the poverty problem and to environmental security. It spends scarce resources on armament and cut down national welfare budgets pleasing only military-industrial complexes and disregarding human needs everywhere.

There is no such thing as human security anywhere on earth. Why? Because of our male-dominated military security paradigm. Because of our totally wrong priorities. Because of our hopeless four-year election cycles that prevent every attempt at long-range macro thinking about the Earth's future. Because there are no human rights for the poor, nor for the yet unborn.


Compassion and willingness to help

Fortunately, human compassion has proved boundless once again. All over the world good-hearted people help humanitarian organisations collect money and donate items for the victims; they want their own countries to receive these victims. And they use the Internet and e-mail to raise consciousness. People help each other on every way they can in the tsunami region.

It's deeply moving. Undoubtedly, human compassion, empathy and love is among the strongest forces on earth - if allowed to flow freely. Normally, it isn't.


One tsunami a day, the year around - and few care

But wait a minute!

This compassion only flows freely when directed at non-political suffering. If related to economy and to politics, it doesn't. About 50% of the people on earth - or about 3 billion - still live on less than 2 dollars a day (while 300,000 Americans die annually from eating too much and low-quality food). Worldwide, between 60.000 and 100.000 people die every day because of poverty, curable diseases, AIDS, lack of food, clean water, shelter, clothes, medicine and education.

At the time of writing, this almost equals the dead from the tsunami (120.000)!!

The people who die innocently in natural catastrophes touch our hearts. Those who die equally innocently because of global capitalism, power games, wars and military over-consumption, don't touch our hearts. Why? Probably because we know, deep down, that they die because of us - because of the privileged, the rich, their greed, their mental self-protection and entertainment. They die because they must - otherwise the rest of us could not be rolling in money, materialism and militarism.

To comfort ourselves, we have invented the concept of sustainable development. But of course we know well that the whole thing is totally unsustainable even in the short run. And we fear that things won't change by voluntary action, only along with increasing global system-breakdown.

Every thought of reducing the consumption of the rich is met with the argument that then the system would break down! We need more consumption and more inequality to - survive. But people die from the survival of this inherently inhuman system!

It's a major enigma of our time that people have not yet mobilised worldwide against this self-defeating, non-rational and non-ethical theory!


Wars also don't touch our hearts this way

A short while ago, the most respected British journal, The Lancet, published a study documenting that about 100,000 Iraqis have died since the invasion and occupation. Before that, UN organisations estimated that the sanctions against the Iraqi people - half of whom are children below 16 - cost the lives of 500,000 to 1,000.000.

It did not stir half the attention now directed at the tsunami. Isn't it mind-boggling that we pay much less attention to man-made disasters and show much less compassion when, in fact, they ought to cause more because they are the ones we could take steps to avoid or change?

The war system also diverts incomprehensible sums from helping the damned of the earth: the world's governments now spend close to 1,000 billion dollars on armament. The war in Iraq costs the U.S. alone 1 billion dollar a week! A warning system against tsunamis, such as Japan's, is said to cost about 20 million dollars.

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Virgil Hawkins, in his PhD thesis reviewed elsewhere on this site, tells us this about recent wars:

That 89% of the war dead in the 1990s were found in Africa, 5% in Europe, 4% in Asia, 1% in the Middle East and 1% in the Americas. More than 5 million people died in the wars in Africa, 1,3 million in the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, and 1,1 in the Sudan alone. Says Hawkins, "Conflicts consistently portrayed in the media as major conflicts, such as those in Kosovo (8,000-9,000 deaths, 2,000 of which occurred prior to the NATO bombing), Israel-Palestine (2,710 deaths), East Timor (1,000 deaths), Northern Ireland (fewer than 400), were in fact, relatively speaking, extremely minor."

Who really cared about the real, great losses of human lives? The media and Western politicians at least didn't.


Money and folly

News reports tell that leading Thai meteorologists were meeting in the morning of the tsunami. They did not issue an alarm about the tsunami coming because - if wrong - they feared that the government would fire them and close down their institute. Why? Because tourism is the most important source of income for Thailand.

One can choose to blame them - or one can say: such is the power of money! Such was the implicit image of the Thai leadership that has spent huge sums on "fighting Muslims" in the South and killing them in the name of the war on terror. It ignored completely human as well as environmental security. So did the governments of Indonesia or Sri Lanka, for so long squandering their resources on wars too - greatly helped by the world's arms dealers.

What better life could the poor people - now also hit by this catastrophe - have lived had their governments operated on more human and less male-militaristic values?


Hopes, in spite of all

The tsunami is a human tragedy beyond comprehension. But it's also an early warning to us all. Hand in hand human and environmental security must now substitute military security. We need a completely different set of priorities and a global ethics of care, indeed that is what globalisation ought to be about.

The new year will hardly be a happy one for the world. Unless we use the tsunami tragedy constructively to understand and respect the interrelatedness of everything - and see how late it is on Earth - the next years could well mean growing darkness.

But we must also not give up the hope that there is enough collected wisdom and courage around for humanity to - still - make peace both with Mother Nature and among ourselves.


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© TFF and the authors 2004



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