out of the ashes - we need accountability not words
Words seem superfluous in the wake of the magnitude of the disasters
that engulfed this country just a week prior to this day. All the
platitudes that have been expressed as well as the pious hopes of
a new and just society that can be born like the proverbial Phoenix
arising out of the ashes have their limitations. Nothing can ever
hope to match the cataclysmic loss of human life and the terrible
agonies of those left behind. It is presumptuous even to try.
retrospect, Sunday's tsunami waves and the destruction in its wake
underscores the impermanence of life and the follies of power, politics,
prejudice, greed and ambition which make up the sum of our existence,
that can be so very easily disposed of in one fell swoop by forces
of nature that not all the ambitious strivings of humankind through
the ages have managed to equal by one zillionth. So much therefore
for our pitiable and angry rantings on religion, race, caste and
creed. This is the manner in which the elements of nature take their
revenge. What is tragic however is that its counter force is indiscriminate,
catching up in its midst good and decent people who ought not to
have died in such a meaningless way.
have now seen our political leaders emerging on one stage to urge
national amity with a fraction more sincerity on their faces than
what is normally evidenced. In general, many Sri Lankans have been
jolted out of their normal somnolent state to respond to a grief-stricken
South and North/East. This is not however to forget the young and
not-so-young city based yuppies who are flippantly pained by the
cancelling of the New Year celebrations rather than by the dead,
the dying and the suffering. These individuals, (to borrow an apt
presidential quote this week in relation to those who engage in
fear mongering), ought to be hanged. So should those unspeakable
human beings engaged in looting and mutilating dead bodies in the
South. For these aberrations, there should be no mercy.
from a practical perspective, it is necessary to look at mechanisms
of accountability in regard to the disasters which occurred. In
any other country, the heads of crucial monitoring bodies such as
the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau as well as responsible officials
of that institution would have resigned or would have been sacked
from their posts for their colossal failure to provide the Sri Lankan
nation with some inkling at least of the dangers that were headed
our way. This week, a reader to one of the daily newspapers wrote
of the gall of some of these individuals who are now taking on the
mantle of "aftermath experts" and expounding on their
theories to a shocked and traumatised nation. This is classically,
adding insult to unprecedented injury.
as Sunday's tsunami waves were concerned, there would have been
ample time for a warning to have been received in order that evacuation
of the beaches could have taken place, if the Bureau had kept steady
contact with any of the US based institutes monitoring seismic activity
around the world. The fact that no one thought this necessary as
the Indian Ocean had never been the target of tsunami waves before
is but a feeble excuse, (reflecting on the ignorance of those very
persons who make such assertions), as even a child who knows the
vagaries of nature will comprehend, let alone trained scientists.
Unless and until we have accountability in this regard, the installing
of early warning systems will accomplish little.
at this present moment in time, debates are ongoing as to whether
a seismology station at Pallekelle recorded the earthquake in Indonesia
at 6.58 am Sri Lankan time and as to whether the failure to disseminate
this information was due to lapses on the part of the officials
of the Mines Bureau. This station had been set up on the initiative
of the University of California more than ten years back but had
reportedly not been functioning at its full capacity for the past
several years. Though President Chandrika Kumaratunga has stated
that this station was not equipped to sense tsunamis, the matter
is yet in doubt and has not been clarified directly by the Mines
Bureau through the issuing of a responsible and factually accurate
statement for whatever reason.
any event, even if we take it as a given that this country did not
have sufficiently sophisticated equipment to detect the quake, one
is monumentally puzzled as to how even the most basic telephone
contact was not maintained by Mines Bureau officials with their
counterparts in the US and Japan who could have informed them, hours
in advance, of the tsunami waves hitting Sri Lanka.
fact, verified accounts abound of individuals who had picked up
the news of the earthquake by chance and had warned friends and
relatives near the coastline in Sri Lanka and India to move out
of harms' way. If ordinary individuals could have issued these warnings,
where was the monitoring of the Mines Bureau even in the most elementary
sense? But in a country where the almost consistent failure on the
part of the Meteorology Department to correctly predict normal weather
conditions is a matter for general hilarity, perhaps one is asking
for too much to expect any commonsensical awareness of seismic activity
that would have an impact on the region.
is all, of course, in the past. The issue is again accountability,
which must not be lost sight of, if we are to avert another cataclysm
akin to last Sunday. The Bureau as well as the Coast Conservation
Department has called for strict regulations governing coastal house
building, hotel building and mining in areas adjacent to the coast.
We all know the manner in which, up to now, the coastal zone had
been ravaged by many individuals favored enough to obtain political
support for their activities while others trying to work by the
law but minus any political backing had been deprived of their livelihood.
This has to change. We need strong systems of accountability put
in place and adequate co-operation in this regard between the various
agencies involved. If Sunday's disaster will not change our casually
sybaritic way of thinking in relation to this country and its plentiful
natural bounty, nothing ever will.