Saturday, February 21, 2015

Dec 30, 2004, a post on; revisiting the tsunami of Dec 2014

Dec 30, 2004
Press Release

Upward of 10,000 are believed dead in the Nicobar Islands, and limited relief is only now reaching south of Car Nicobar. Confusion prevails. The news from Central and Great Nicobar is utter devastation. One inhabited island, Trinket, is in three pieces. The Navy and Coast Guard have been picking up bodies and providing what aid they can but they are overwhelmed.
The population of the Nicobars is 42,000, with perhaps 30,000 Nicobarese. Half of the Nicobarese are missing. Aid on Car Nicobar is said to be eluding most of the Nicobarese so far, and reaching primarily settlers and personnel from the mainland. The other Nicobar islands contain almost exclusively Nicobarese and a couple of hundred or so of another indigenous tribe, the Shompen. There is great concern for indigenous Andamanese as well: the Onge, Great Andamanese and North Sentinel islanders. There is little news from settlers on Little Andaman either, other than reports of many deaths.
Ten ships are said to have been dispatched to the Andamans from the mainland. But these typically take five days to reach. During these critical days, what is to become of the survivors? The cholera bacillus already exists on the Nicobars. There is virtually no clean water or food in the entire Nicobars, and even Port Blair is short of water, food and fuel. Bodies have yet to be cleared. Epidemics are more than likely.
In this context we wish to question the decision of Indian authorities not to allow foreign aid. International aid agencies are already ministering to the survivors in Sumatra and Thailand, and from these regions it would have taken--would take-- no more than a couple of hours for them to airdrop supplies such as drinking water and food on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and to send teams to pick up bodies and take care of the injured.
India presumably does not want foreigners in this region because of defence concerns. But what is the point of defence if not to protect lives? What security concern can possibly outweigh the need to save the lives of thousands?
In 1942, when a massive cyclone hit southern Bengal, killing more than 10,000, the British authorities did not send aid for weeks, and also prevented private agencies from functioning there. Their concern was security. Later, during the Bengal famine, they refused offers of grain from other countries, saying they had the situation under control; in truth, more than 2 million people died. Today we are appalled at such murderous callousness. Why should Indians in turn be handed the burden of similar guilt? Who are the authorities to refuse aid on behalf of the Nicobarese, or, for that matter, any of the other stricken?

Mahasweta Devi
Rupa Ganguly
Sita Venkateswar
Author, Development and Ethnocide: Colonial Practices in the Andaman Islands
Madhusree Mukerjee
Author, The Land of Naked People: Encounters with Stone Age Islanders

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