The year 2004 ended on a very sombre note with the Dec. 26 Indian Ocean Tsunami disaster — perhaps the worst of its kind in more than a century, and certainly the worst natural disaster of this new millennium.
It is now known that some 153,000 are dead, thousands more are missing, while millions have been left homeless and jobless.
But who was really behind this tragedy? Was it a completely "natural" disaster??
Some will call it an "act of God" while others will blame the human element for at least part of the devastation. Here are the top six explanations, equally divided between God and humanity:
1). God wanted to punish Muslims because they do not believe that Jesus Christ is his Son.
2). God wanted to punish those tourists who travel to Thailand and other southeast Asian countries in order to have sex with children.
3). God wanted to see how generously human beings would reach out to help one another.
4). Human beings set off an undersea nuclear explosion which triggered the earthquake and hence the giant tidal wave.
5). Human experimenters were testing a powerful new secret weapon, able to cause massive eco-disasters, such as earthquakes and tidal waves, through remote control.
6). Human beings among the world’s rich and powerful nations helped exacerbate a natural event into a massive catastrophe by neglecting to contribute to the installation of tsunami Early Warning Systems (EWS) for poor coastal villages of Southeast Asia and eastern Africa.
Although "blaming" God for intentionally sending the world such an enormous disaster is impossible to prove, this rationale has nevertheless been used with varying emphasis by preachers the world over.
Nothing anyone can say will change their belief. Some of their more reflective followers may disagree, but most will not challenge what is delivered when it comes wrapped in language of insightful wisdom, no matter how shallow the thinking.
After all, many prominent Christian TV evangelists preached after the terrorist acts of 9/11 that they were God’s punishment upon America for approving of homosexuality.
On the other hand, for those who believe humans are largely responsible for the tsunami disaster, both science and politics (neither can do it alone) can prove… or disprove their thesis, leaving most attempts at rational explanation starting back at square one.
So we can see that cataloguing all six (among many) explanations or "conspiracy theories" of who or what was behind the tragedy does not help in arriving at quick, tidy, or satisfactory answers. Searching for the real truth is the most difficult task of all.
Was the timing of this year’s Boxing Day disaster, and the earthquake in the Iranian city of Bam exactly one year earlier, just a coincidence?
If a member of the global nuclear club was doing an undersea nuclear experiment, why did other nations not point out the guilty country? China and India both have nuclear technology and are close enough to the earthquake epicentre to detect which country — if any — could have triggered the seismic shock behind this disaster.
From the very first moments, the disaster went political with the spread of information that the epicentre was closest to Indonesia’s war-ravaged province of Aceh, on the north-westernmost tip of Sumatra, the country’s largest island. The Indonesian government immediately called for a cessation of hostilities with that province’s militant separatist groups, and now wants all foreign military personnel — especially Americans — to leave the area within a few short weeks.
But what about the longer-term failure of people in the area to prepare for and reduce the impact of such disasters on human life and property?
Among those countries directly affected by the December 26 disaster India, with its high-tech industry sector and huge infrastructure, is considered the most developed. It also spends billions annually on its nuclear capability and advanced weaponry.
Along the Indian coasts, tsunamis repeatedly claim the lives of thousands of people, especially in the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Andra Pradesh. Then why has the Indian government, with all the resources at its disposal, not moved to develop Early Warning Systems to help save the lives of the poor in these densely populated fishing communities?
Even more desperate is the plight of poor coastal villagers in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Africa, whose countries lack the resources to provide the infrastructural means to prevent another calamity on the scale of this one.
In reality, the decision to fund projects such as tsunami and earthquake EWSs is controlled by the World Bank, and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). They control most of the available funds, and any policymaking expenditures.
Of the two bodies, the World Bank has the most potential funding to support the installation of EWSs but is not interested. Its mandate is apparently to fit the agendas of affluent developed countries; it is looking for a quick buck, not better ways of saving human lives.
The UNDP’s main task is to support small business infrastructures in developing countries, along with teaching the necessary skills to develop trained workers for employers.
The UNDP is not interested in saving lives, but in making poor people skillful enough to be used as cheap outsourcing labour whenever the rich and powerful countries need them.
So if anyone imagines that the death toll over the last several weeks was inevitable, they are sorely mistaken.
The attitude of the world’s people has been that there are more important things to spend money on — like making more money so the rich can get richer — or, worse still, making sophisticated weaponry to kill the poor and the weak. It is a vicious circle.
Awaiting the world’s next disaster, I foresee that humans will be behind it too. Will it be on Boxing Day 2005? Maybe.