The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

The tsunami couldn't have been prevented
– but the human tragedy didn't have to happen

Jan 10, 2005

Day after day, the toll of tsunami victims jumps from one awful figure to the next, with estimates in early January running at more than 150,000 people killed. It's a human catastrophe that can only provoke horror – above all, because it should not have happened.

It's true that scientists cannot yet predict exactly when earthquakes will happen, nor exactly where their worst consequences will be. But it was not the earthquake that killed most of those who died. It was the tsunami that came afterwards. And most of the people caught in those monster waves could have escaped if they had been warned. Most would only have had to go a mile or so inland to avoid it. And there was enough time to warn most of the areas hit by those monster waves – if a warning system had existed in the Indian Ocean.

Such a warning system is in place all around the Pacific Ocean that borders on rich countries like Japan, Australia and the United States. Sensors give advance warnings of disturbances that can produce the monster waves on shore. In Japan, the shorelines are outfitted with loudspeaker and siren systems, which can be used to warn people of an advancing tsunami, just as such systems are used in this country to warn of a tornado or an advancing hurricane. And military and police forces are trained to evacuate people in the case of severe weather warnings.

There is no such system in the Indian Ocean – and not because there was no risk. Scientists have been warning of the danger of a serious tsunami in the region, calling for the establishment of a warning system there.

But who would pay for it? The countries themselves are impoverished – and all the more so because companies from the U.S., Europe and Japan control their economies.

The population of countries hit by the tsunami are used as very cheap labor in the tourist areas around the shorelines, as well as in textile, shoe, electronics and other factories producing goods for the big international companies.

These companies pay little in local taxes – not enough to allow a warning system to be built. And they demand that the taxes they do pay be put into the local military – to be used to keep down a population when it revolts against their situation.

Not only is there no special warning system. Like other countries exploited by the imperialist countries, they have few roads, and little infrastructure that might have helped the population.

In the eyes of the big international capitalists, the people who live around the Indian Ocean are expendable, easily replaced by other impoverished people forced to work for next to nothing.

Maybe we will never be able to prevent earthquakes and the tsunamis they produce, but we can get rid of a system that considers a large part of humanity as something to be tossed out to sea.