Tsunami And Hurricane Sandy: Lest We Forget – OpEd


Our prayers are with the people on USA’s Eastern Coast who have been living through nightmarish experiences as they are threatened with hurricane Sandy. It has brought life almost to a standstill, but fortunately there has been no humanitarian disaster of the kind that the Tsunami of December 2004 inflicted on the people of Chennai, coastal Tamil Nadu, the Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Southern Thailand and some of the islands of Indonesia.

Barring Indonesia, the rest of the areas were hit by a Tsunami for the first time in their history. Many of us did not even know what had hit us when we suddenly found huge waves taking away thousands of people who were near the sea shore.

As I keep reading the Tweets of Barkha Dutt, Group editor of NDTV, who is presently in the Brown University on the Rhode Island, regarding the progress of the hurricane and its feared aftermath and watching the brave coverage of Sarah Jacob of NDTV from the streets and restaurants of New York, my mind goes back to the hours after the Tsunami struck us.

Some brave young journalists and officials were the first to reach the affected areas to assist the disaster-struck people and keep the world informed of the magnitude of the disaster. Sheela Bhatt of Rediff.com and Suhasini Haidar, then working for CNN, New Delhi, rushed to the Andaman & Nicobar Islands, which were practically cut off from the rest of India. Barkha Dutt rushed to coastal Tamil Nadu where many villages were swept away by the waves and thousands of poor fishermen were killed by the marauding waves. Lyse Doucet of BBC co-ordinated the coverage from all the affected areas—initially from Tamil Nadu and subsequently from Indonesia.

Many young officers of the Governments of Tamil Nadu and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands rose to the occasion in a brilliant manner despite the fact that our Governments had never prepared a crisis management drill for dealing with Tsunamis since we had never experienced a Tsunami before. There was global recognition of the remarkable work done by them.

The Indian and US Navies together mounted a massive humanitarian relief operation in south India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Indonesia.

When memories of the disaster were still fresh, Governmental and non-Governmental organisations in the US undertook a systematic documentation of the Tsunami experience so that a data-base of knowledge and experience was available for the future.

One would have expected a similar exercise to document our Tsunami experience. Unfortunately, we never did it. In 2005, I was associated as Distinguished Fellow with the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) of New Delhi. I proposed to the late Shri R.K.Mishra, the then head of the ORF, that we in the ORF undertake such an exercise. He reacted positively, but I found within six monthsiof the Tsunami disaster a total lack of interest and co-operation for the project, which failed to take off.

I do not know whether the National Maritime Foundation of our Navy has undertaken such an exercise for documentation. If not, it is time for it to do so.

B. Raman

B. Raman (August 14, 1936 – June 16, 2013) was Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies.

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