INDEPTH: DISASTER IN ASIA|
Frequently asked questions
CBC News Online | Jan. 4, 2005
From The National, Jan. 3, 2005
The National asked viewers for their questions about the disaster in Asia and received all sorts from people all across this country, from Europe and the United States. Tonight, some answers.
I know fishing and tourism are large parts of the economy in the tsunami-affected areas. But I'm just wondering how much of the business and industry was wiped out in these countries?
Heather Jordan Barrie, Ont.
Economists in the region predict economic growth will be cut by about one per cent, less than you might expect. In fact, the financial services company JP Morgan says the scare over SARS will likely turn out to have had more economic impact on Asia than than the tsunami.
But the CBC's Terry Milewski found a very different answer in India's disaster zone. Here's his report:
Somehow, the dry phrase "economic impact" seems insufficient in a place where the economy isn't just impacted but effectively wiped out.
One example is the fishing harbour of Akirapettai, one of a string of villages on the southeastern shore of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is the worst-hit area in India, where nearly 10,000 have died, most of them, some 7,000, on this strip of coastline.
The stench tells you that many bodies still lie rotting in the debris and in the water among the mangled timbers of the fishing fleet. Like so many others, these women suffered stunning losses.
The story here is not just about lost lives, but the lost livelihoods of those who survived. A fisherman named Dakshima Murti picks through the wreckage to find one of two boats that are his. Not only did he lose three family members, the boats are lost as well. Both far beyond repair.
Has he been able to save anything? Any equipment? Nets? "Everything is gone," he says. And with no government aid so far all he has is a wreck. Although some don't have even that.
Ramesh, another fisherman, says both his parents were killed and his boat sank. He has had no official help, either, and his livelihood is gone. His boat was carried away by the wave and he has no idea where it is.
To really grasp what has happened here, you have to multiply those stories by maybe 700 fishing boats and fishing families who have been ruined by this disaster, the whole basis of the local economy.
Up and down the coastal strip here in the state of Tamil Nadu it is more like 6,000 boats destroyed and the job of replacing them and rebuilding hasn't really even begun. It is not just their boats that are ruined, but their homes, thousands of them were levelled and here a fishing boat smashed through a row of houses to end up 100 metres from the shore.
Other boats blocked the only road in and out of town. And it took days to move them. The government's been long on inspection tours and press releases about what a great job it's doing, but the survivors tell a different story. "Nothing," one man says, "the government has done nothing." Their house is ruined and all three of their children died. "The waves took them away," a woman says.
Everywhere there is that reek of death. What is striking about the relief effort here, such as it is, is that a week after the tsunami, it is still focused on the dead rather than on the living. They're still trying to dig out bodies here while the survivors seem to be taking a back seat. Slowly, though, the army is removing the corpses entombed in the wreckage but it is a grim task. After a week of decomposition, a whole sack of lime won't deal with the stench so they pour on the bleach as well. Meanwhile, rebuilding the economy here remains a distant concept. For now, even if the sea is calm, this is a continuing disaster.
My brother-in-law survived the tsunami in Thailand. We've been told out here on the West coast of B.C. for many years that it is not a matter of if a similar earthquake will happen, but a matter of when. My question is: which areas of the B.C. coast will be hardest hit?
Gina Salar-Arefi Surrey, British Columbia.
Peter Mansbridge: Bob McDonald, the national science columnist and host of a CBC Radio's Quirks and Quarks is going to help us with this one. Bob, it is a good question. How would B.C. be affected directly? But first, let's step back, why is there a problem in the first place?
Bob McDonald: The problem Peter is called the Pacific Ring of Fire. And it is an earthquake and volcanic zone that surrounds the Pacific Ocean and is the source of most tsunamis that happen around the world.
In a map of the entire Pacific Ocean, you can see there a crack that goes all the way around it, the Pacific Ocean itself is the largest single piece of the earth's crust, there's about a dozen of these continent-size pieces. Right down in the lower left, just above Australia there, you can see where the crack gets very complicated, that is Indonesia. That's also where Krakatoa, the largest volcano, one of the most powerful volcano explosions in recorded history, went off. Just north of that you go up into Japan, riddled with earthquakes. We had Kobe just a couple of years ago, go to the north, you see Alaska, the Aleutian Islands, a chain of volcanoes there. And then the whole west coast of North and South America are lines of volcanoes and earthquakes with the San Andreas [fault] and all that.
This area is constantly active. That is what is causing all of these tsunamis and why Canada's part of a 26-nation monitoring system to make sure that we can tell when these things are actually going to take place. So, technically, any part of Canada on the West Coast could receive a tsunami. Because the tsunamis can cross oceans and there could be one in Japan that would affect us. There was one in Alaska that affected Hawaii, so anyone around that rim is on the alert for these tsunamis.
Peter Mansbridge: If one did affect Canada, what would the impact be?
Bob McDonald: There is one that is a hotspot that the geologists are working for just off the south coast of Vancouver Island. It is called the Juan de Fuca plate. The questioner was astute that it isn't a matter of if, but when. This plate is a chip off the big Pacific plate it is the size of Nova Scotia. The red subduction zone there is where this piece of the floor is going under North America. And it is not going under smoothly. It seems to be catching and then it releases its energy and there is a super quake that goes pretty well that whole map, all the way from California right up into central B.C. It seems to take about 500 years for this thing to build up its pressure and then it lets go. When it lets go, the magnitude of the quake is greater than anything we've ever seen in our time. And the tsunami that would come out of that would actually radiate across the whole Pacific Ocean so we would become a source of tsunamis for other countries.
Peter Mansbridge: Five hundred years? When was the last one?
Bob McDonald: The last one was 300 years ago, so I don't know if you want to lose sleep over that or not, but the problem with tsunamis is that not all earthquakes create them. You need to have the bottom of the ocean either suddenly go down or go up to cause the water above it to slosh and make these really long waves that can travel at hundreds of kilometres an hour. So some earthquakes are sideways. So you don't know. And because we can't predict when the next earthquake is going to happen, if all of them don't produce tsunamis, predicting tsunamis is even more difficult but that's one they're keeping their eye on.
Peter Mansbridge: There is an east coast to this country.
Bob McDonald: That's true and let me just quickly show you the Atlantic side, it's almost the opposite of the Pacific. Instead of having a crack around the outside, there is a crack down the middle. There was a mudslide off the Grand Banks that caused a tsunami in Newfoundland in 1929. You can see there is a little branch that goes towards the Mediterranean, there is a volcano there that they're worried about and also the Caribbean, there's a crack there with Martinique going off. But they're very, very rare on the Atlantic coast. It is mostly the Pacific because it has the more violent geography that would create the tsunamis.
We've seen over the past week how Canadians have been reaching into their pockets to help out. A number of viewers had questions about aid and where it goes.
What is the response of multinational corporations to the crisis in the afflicted areas?
Jo-Ann Babb, Winnipeg:
Reporter: Kelly Crowe
With the swipe of a bar code, this Future Shop in Vancouver sends $10 to the Red Cross for south Asian relief. It's a scene being repeated in banks and retail stores across Canada. It's one answer to this viewer's question.
Canadian corporations are writing cheques in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Is it enough? Tim Hoswitschka handles corporate donations for the Canadian Red Cross.
"Of course, we do get extra funds, as this is a huge catastrophe in Asia. So corporate Canada, any funds that you can support us with will be used appropriately, Hoswitschka says.
But corporations are also walking a fine line. How to be generous without appearing to take advantage of the situation for publicity or sales?
Garth Rowan, of Allaire Rowan Communications, is advising some of Canada's largest corporations on their tsunami-relief strategy.
"If you're seen to be in some way profiting from someone else's tragedy, you're going to get hammered by the public and rightly so," Rowan says.
With millions of dollars in cash flying around, some Canadians fear there is a risk of their good intentions going awry.
Is there an effective mechanism in place to ensure that individuals do not profit on the backs of these tragic victims?
John Pump, Vancouver
Experts say the best defence is to stick to the charities you already know and trust. For its part, the Canadian Red Cross says it follows the donations through to delivery.
"Our international assessment teams are there, and when our supplies do arrive, we always ensure that Red Cross is there to ensure our supplies and funds do meet the vulnerable," Tim Hoswitschka of the Red Cross says.
On top of corporate donations and individual donations, the federal government is also writing a cheque for tsunami relief.
"Canada is doubling its financial contributions from $40 million to at least $80 million," Prime Minister Paul Martin says.
At the same time, Ottawa has pledged to match every dollar donated by individual Canadian citizens. Some people are confused.
What is the Canadian actual contribution going to be?
Michael Scott, Ottawa
It's not clear yet. The matching money will come out of the $80 million the Prime Minister already pledged, but if Canadian donations exceed that amount before Jan. 11, Ottawa is promising to match it.
When he was asked if there is an upper limit to how much Ottawa will donate, Prime Minister Paul Martin said: "Ultimately I suppose, but we're not there yet."
At the Vancouver Future Shop, with the speed of modern commerce, another $50 goes off to the Red Cross. In just over a week, individual Canadians have already donated more than $50 million.
Could Canada draft a special "Tsunami Immigration Policy," with well-defined guidelines, which will be different from those already established in its present immigration law, aimed at aiding tsunami victims?
Angelo Coccimiglio, Montreal
Reporter: Carolyn Dunn
Canada already has a disaster immigration policy in place. It's been used in recent disasters like hurricanes in Haiti, and it will be used in the south Asian disaster as well. Basically during an emergency like this, Immigration Canada puts aside its non-urgent business, things like student visas and concentrates a lot of its resources on immigration related to the disaster. Existing visa applications from people from the region will be fast-tracked, provided those people have family who are Canadian citizens or permanent residents. There will be cases outside of that, of course, and they will be looked at on a case-by-case basis. If there's a humanitarian or compassionate reason to fast-track them, then they will be. Of course, all visa applications have to go through the regular security checks.
On behalf of myself and the people of Kemptville, our deepest sympathies to the victims of the tsunami as well as their families around the world and in Canada. Personally, all I have to offer is my hands. So my question is how would one go about volunteering overseas to help these poor people out?
Brian Malone, Kemptville, Ontario
Reporter: Carolyn Dunn
From a Foreign Affairs standpoint, and from an aid agency standpoint, they are urging Canadians to please not go to the region. Foreign Affairs says that more Canadians in the region are just more Canadians to track, already a problem. For aid agencies they say that untrained volunteers are actually more of a liability than an asset, that these people have training and experience that average Canadians don't have. So they are asking people to donate money. And if you can't do that, then they're asking you to do a little bit of legwork and get out and encourage your family and friends who may have some money to donate to do so.
Is there any way Canadians can adopt orphans from the south Asia area affected by the tsunami?
Marc Dominic Dupuis, Montreal
Reporter: Carolyn Dunn
It's not clear whether there's an orphan problem yet. Some of the children may actually be taken in by extended family. But there are lots of hurdles and it would never be a quick process to adopt a child from this area. There would be international standards to ensure that the children would not be being exploited. Then there are lots of processes in Canada as well. It is a provincial jurisdiction so you'd have to go through that process. Then Canada would begin the paperwork, which is also designed to make sure that adoption is not being used to exploit. Having said that, the government, the federal government is speaking with the provinces about the possibility of this, and they say that they will try to remain flexible if there is a need within these very strict standards.
The question we have regarding the tsunamis is what has happened to the endangered species in the area, like the Sumatran orangutans who were already critically endangered?
Jugda family, Calgary.
There's good news on that front. The majority of orangutans, similar to these ones in Borneo, are safe. Their habitat is farther inland. And coupled with the fact they live in trees, conservation officials say the animals avoided the flooding. The orangutan is the only great ape that lives on the Asian continent. On Sumatra, there are only 7,500 left. They are disappearing at a rate of 1,000 a year from poaching and loss of habitat.
Why aren't there more dead animals?
Reporter: Adrienne Arsenault
Sri Lanka is a certainly part of the world that is very rich in wildlife., as you can probably hear and in fact, Sri Lanka has a nature preserve right on the South coast of this island and it's filled with elephants and tigers, and monkeys. The belief was at the beginning of this that they would be finding lots of animal corpses. Certainly they found lots of marine life, even sharks one or two kilometres away from the sea lying on the roadways.
But what we understand so far from Sri Lankan officials is that they haven't actually found the corpses of any elephants or tigers yet. That sort of gives credence to some of their theories that maybe, just maybe animals have a sixth sense about these sorts of disasters. Humane society agencies and animal rescue groups aren't entirely sure about that. They seem to believe that once the rescuers get deeper in to the territory, that that's when they will start to find the corpses. One of the concerns at the moment, though, is about what happens with the bodies. Some people are keeping a very close eye as best they can on the dogs here on this island out of a fear and some confidence that the dogs are in the process of attacking and eating some of the corpses that have yet to be buried.
The earthquake was logged on a geological website within 20 minutes of its occurrence. Geologists around the world were aware that there might be tsunamis. Why didn't the global news networks raise and alarm?
Betty Fisher, Fruitvale, British Columbia.
Reporter: Susan Ormiston
It is hard to fathom why in our wired, technological, 24-hour news world, there was no warning. Why the only alert in Banda Aceh was the deputy mayor pounding on doors, yelling that the ocean was coming. Could the global media have spread the word? Maybe. But the media had to be warned of the tsunami, first. And it wasn't, either.
"We're not scientists and we don't know that an earthquake of such and such a magnitude at such and such a depth at such and such a point in the earth's crust is likely to trigger tsunamis. That's not what we know how to do and we're very cautious about not spreading false alarms or panic or anything like that," says Jonthan Klein, President of CNN/US. "We presume that there are civil defence mechanisms in place and means by which scientists and governments can communicate with each other."
A fair presumption, but in this case, flawed. At 8 p.m. eastern time on Christmas night in North America, early Sunday morning in Indonesia, a massive earthquake woke up the Indian Ocean. Fifteen minutes later in Hawaii, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre issued a bulletin, noting the earthquake, but at first underestimating its power. No danger to the Pacific area, it said.
But critically there was no mention of a potential tsunami at that time. One hour after the quake, the first wire service from Jakarta reported the earthquake in Sumatra, but not its after-effects, no mention of a tsunami, which had already killed thousands and was sweeping across the Indian Ocean. The growing threat was simply not getting out. If this had happened in the Pacific region, the Tsunami Warning Centre would have alerted emergency authorities and the media, possibly within ten minutes. But there was no warning system in south Asia, and efforts to contact authorities there mostly failed.
In Honolulu, the chief of the Pacific Warning Centre, Charles McCrury said, "we had no contacts in our address book for people there. In retrospect, partly we just didn't realize the scale of the thing."
No one alerted the media.
Other countries like Japan, watching the earthquake, did not talk to each other.
"No government made that tsunami public. And had they done so, then of course the BBC would have reported that." Says John Williams of the BBC. "But because no government made the warning public, we didn't have anything to report.
It was left to eyewitnesses to report the devastation already happening.
"The first we knew about it was, the first we knew about the wave was when local people, tourists, phoned up the BBC in London and told us of their experiences," Williams says.
An early warning system is being planned now. Too late for the Indian Ocean region. But what's really needed is a global communications plan for disasters. Where the media might play a role.
My question is why are Somalia and other coastal countries in Africa victims not reported by the media in Canada? Are there other places not covered by the media too?
Olukayode Adebogun, Regina
The country that used to be called Burma. Myanmar has an extensive coastline, and it's just north of Thailand, and the Aceh area of Indonesia. So far, there have been no reports of damage or loss of life. Did this area really escape the threat to has been impeded?
Robert Tucker, Owen Sound
Reporter: Eve Savory
Who got hit and how hard and who escaped was determined by the more or less North-South orientation of a fault line.
John Clague of Simon Fraser University is our guide to the rupture and its impact.
The is in a line parallel to the coast of Indonesia, Sumatra, he says. The main directional force is exerted to the west and also to the east.
The rupture was a mere 50 kilometres from the west coast of northern Sumatra. The waves moved mainly east and west at about 700 kilometres an hour. That's why the people of Banda Aceh were only minutes from catastrophe. So were the people of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands just to the northwest. It is estimated that 5,000 are dead there. 10,000 are missing from Nicobar alone. The east waves rolled on to Thailand and Malaysia. It was two hours before the waves traveling west found their first target.
"Sri Lanka lies right along the barrel of a gun. If you look at the orientation of the fault zone," Clague says.
The waves that hit Sri Lanka and India then bounced back, refracted towards Myanmar or Burma. The country's secretive military dictatorship admits to only 53 deaths, but many are skeptical. But a computer model shows bright red indicates waves 10-metres-high in the area around Rangoon.
The cursor on this enhanced NOAA map shows in red possible wave damage off the coast of Mynamar.
See animation of NOAA map.
"I just can't believe that there wasn't tremendous loss of life and destruction there," Clague says.
Because the main energy of the waves rolled east and west, Bangladesh to the north was barely touched, and this goes for Australia to the south. The west waves weren't finished, however. The lowest-lying country in the world, the Maldives, lay in their path. Eighty people have died there. Another 75 are missing. As the waves rolled west, they ran in to the Seychelles, flooding some of the islands, washing out bridges, but the Seychelles saved a neighbour, Madagascar. The computer animation showed what happened as the waves hit the Seychelles and Mauritius ridge, it bent them to the north and south.
"You can just see it redirecting the energy unfortunately towards Somalia which is the next to [be] hit," Clague says.
Somalia and East Africa, 5,000 kilometres from the rupture, count 200 dead. They were hit about ten hours after the quake.
"If they had any warning system in place, [there] would have been no loss of life in Africa. It's just really very sad," Clague says.
So, as thousands of aid workers and journalists descend on the worst hit areas, other countries say they are being forgotten.