Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Jan 4, 2005; a post on; revisiting the tsunami of Dec 2004

Jan 4, 2005
dear pankaj,
the first part of this might be useful.
take care

-------- Original Message --------
[Deeshaa] The Urgent and the Important
Date:     Mon, 3 Jan 2005 00:49:09 -0800 (PST)
From:     Suhit Anantula

The Urgent and the Important
Submitted by Suhit Anantula on December 31, 2004 - 01:42. Culture
The tsunami which hit Asia has created massive destruction and has resulted in the death of atleast 100,000 persons. This is a natural disaster of a high magnitude. Seeing the destruction, reading it about the media has made me wonder about I can help these people.
I could sit and just read about it, write about it on my blog and/or go and work on the field. The act of working on the field of very exciting to me. I wanted to be nearer to the devastation and help people out. As I was wondering how to go about it, my dear friend Reuben gave me this piece of advice.
Do go ahead, but please do not be a hindrance.
This made me think. Then I understood what he meant. In a similar vein I found Peter Kaminsky s' article on a similar topic.
This is what he writes :
In general, the best way to help is to give money to a relief organization that is providing aid in the disaster area. Being an effective international relief worker requires specialized skills, knowledge, and expertise, and every worker deployed requires support that may strain resources that have already been stretched by the disaster.
He also provides links from Aid agencies which make it clear that even though we have good intentions it is not enough or relevant at the time of disaster. This is the time and domain of specialists. That was my first learning.
In the meanwhile Dina Mehta contacted me to see if I wanted to participate in the collaborative Tsunami Help blog . (I have been working there for the past 2 days, hence no postings on the blog, on Deeshaa Network and on I found this to be a great opportunity and started working a wonderful motivated team out there. Never have I seen people (in my short experience) before collaborating from all corners of the earth, forming groups, leaders taking over, decisions being taken, absolutely strangers work together better than corporate groups. This team has created a website which was accessed by 200,000+ people in 3 days.
The team has worked hard and well. The team has also created a Wiki to accompany the blog and get things organized. This has proved to be so helpful that Wiki News which hosted the blog crashed. In the meanwhile, Google has been kind enough to support unlimited bandwidth for the tsunami help blog.
I have been trying to get people to move from the Deeshaa yahoo group to the Deeshaa Network for a month now and this has not been hapenning. A stark contrast with the disaster scenario. This disaster has changed a lot of things. People were forming groups on their own, a lot of them where contributing and working all day and night and things where happening. The sheer size of the disaster, the media reports, the loss of life and property and the urgency of the situation has made everybody to move in.
This is my second learning. When the urgency is shown, when the right moves are made we can get a lot of people working together for a particular cause.
The third learning was understanding steps in creating "smartmobs " for getting things done. But, that will be a separate post.
In this chaos, urgency and information overload Atanu Dey provides his view, an alternative view if you may call that.
He starts his blog post with these dramatic paragraphs.
I am outraged.
Yes, I not so much saddened as I am outraged.
It is a great tragedy. So many lives needlessly wasted. So many children dead, so many more with little hope of a decent human existence. Millions homeless without proper water, food, healthcare and education. Entirely preventable because we have the technology and the resources to avoid all this suffering and death. In the end it comes down to human frailty--greed, short-sightedness, ignorance, the lust for power.
And then there was an incident on Sunday when an earthquake unleased a tsunami in the Indian Ocean and killed about 50 thousand, give or take 10 thousand. It is getting a lot of press and appeals for help on the internet are beginning to rival the pedellers of Viagra in the volume of email and the urgency of their appeal.
Then he throws this bomb.
Yesterday 55,000 children died premature deaths, a few hundred million people didn't have adequate housing, hundreds of millions were hungry. About half of all children in South Asia are malnourished. Poverty, a clear cause of malnourishment, is a also a consequence. It is a Silent Emergency.
We are a strange lot. We get on with our lives as if nothing is the matter with the world, when 10 million children die needlessly every year. Then a stupid large wave hits and a few thousand die and we run around like headless chickens. Some sobering statistics:
Every year, over 10 million children under the age of five die from readily preventable and treatable illnesses such as diarrhoeal dehydration, acute respiratory infection, measles, and malaria. In half of the cases, illness is complicated by malnutrition. [ Source ]
He ends the post with this :
Why? Bounded rationality? Or as I see it, unbounded stupidity. Fifty-thousand dying each and every day is not news. Being essentially innumerates, we do not find statistics very useful. What we need is pictures of great devastation for entertainment and distraction. The pictures of tsunami-ravaged coastlines compel our attention unlike the numbers we read in the annual reports of global institutions such as the World Bank.
If you read the post your first impression could be that he is against people working for the tsunami. This is not so. My understanding is that he wants all of us to react million times more with million times more people volunteering with million times more concern for that poor souls who are dying everyday.
I had a chat with Atanu about this. He made three important points.

The urgent gets precedence over the important. It is basic innumeracy and ignorance. Solve the systemic problem.
These are my fourth learnings.
So here is my question?
Why don't we work together as we are doing now and solve these systemic problems? What is stopping us? Why do we give importance to the Urgent rather than the silent emergency?
How can we get to collaborate and co-operative to make this world a better place? How? How?...
Quadrant II Thinking
From Stephen R. Covey's "First Things First".
This...describes the gardening process. its' identifying what's important and focussing our effort to help it grow. Its planning, cultivating, watering and weeding. Its applying the importance paradigm...its a high-leverage activity. On one level, this process is a first-aid measure to treat the problem of urgency addiction. If you haven't had the chance to think deeply about needs and principles .... you are basically operating from the urgency paradigm. Quadrant II is not a tool, it is a way of thinking.
Clearly we deal with both factors -- urgency and importance -- in our lives. But in our day-to-day decision making, one of these factors tend to dominate. The problem comes when we operate primarily from a paradigm of urgency rather than a paradigm of importance.
Like chemical abuse, urgency addiction is a temporaty painkiller used in excess. Simply doing more fater fails to get to the chronic causes, the underlying issue, the reason for the pain. To get to chronic causes requires a different kind of thinking. Its' like the difference between "prevention" and "treatment" thinking in medicine.
Check these numbers out : Are we really innumerate?
"Every single day -- 365 days a year -- an attack against children occurs that is 10 times greater than the death toll from the World Trade Center," says Jean-Pierre Habicht, professor of epidemiology and nutritional sciences at Cornell. "We know how to prevent these deaths -- we have the biological knowledge and tools to stop this public health travesty, but we're not yet doing it." [ Source ]
One child dies of malaria somewhere in Africa every 20 sec., and there is one malarial death every 12 sec somewhere in the world. Malaria kills in 1 year what AIDS killed in 15 years. In 15 years, if 5 million have died of AIDS, 50 million have died of malaria. [ Source ]

~ Suhit

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