It has been three days since boundaries between the sea and land ceased to exist for a moment causing untold havoc on Asia (Maldives with the highest altitude of 2.4 meters was, for a brief instant of time, completely submerged). There still exists an uncanny calm on the coast with predictions of impending after-shocks not entirely ruled out. The casualties keep rising with more to follow due to looming fear of disease. The Western world has responded promptly with overwhelming relief aid and many NGOs have responded with fund raising activities. You can contribute to the cause to the ones listed at the Acorn or refer to my post on Monday.
Tsunami was a little-known word in India before the sea unleashed its unpredictive power. Children have borne the brunt of the disaster; some of whom right off their playing fields. Disaster always targets the weak and the helpless much like Darwin’s theory of Survival of the Fittest in morbid action. Scenes of despairing mothers at burial sites of their children — most of whom never had a chance to rise from their sleep — is always a heart-rending scene. We all have experienced flooding in our lifetimes but never has water risen so quickly that escape was virtually impossible. Before we could blink, the geography was altered in virtual Doomsday fashion. Stories of people swept off into the sea and tossed like twigs in raging waters were strangely common. Sitting in a far away land, I cannot begin to imagine the horrors and the feeling of helplessness is crippling. Usually natural disasters in the developing world barely manage to make the “second story priority” in American news coverage but thankfully, the media ran almost continuous telecast of the tragedy with horrific video clips. The pictures and video instill renewed respect and awe for the forces of nature. Fragility of man seems reinforced emphatically. No better example of shock and awe can ever exist.
Having lived near the coast, I cannot imagine how people can go back to living without fear. The unpredictable nature of such an event occurring will always make people look over their shoulders each time they take a leisurely stroll down the beach. The city of Bombay thankfully spared is a sitting duck for such sea borne calamities. Trying hard not to sound ominous, I cannot begin to imagine the impact such a tragedy would have on Bombay. Little extra rain during high tide is enough to flood the city, not to mention the obsolete drainage system. Without belittling the impact on the eastern coast, the Malabar Coast (with the exception of Kerela) seems to have escaped this time around.
The foursome-hurricane effect on Florida has led people to question living near the water’s edge. Will it cause a similar trend of moving away from the coast in India? It is nearly impossible to do that because most communities directly affected depend on the sea for their livelihood. Sea worship has always been a part of any coastal community (maybe the Gods were on vacation this year around). On the other hand, such freak occurrences of nature along the coast make living (near the sea) unviable for the affluent community. They can afford to seek other pastures for their viewing pleasure. On the upside, gold coasting may be a fading trend. Will people stop buying seafront property? Residential property on the coast will always cause the greatest damage in terms of life, property, and emotional state of the people. A single life lost is always worth more than a wrecked pier.
The Coastal Zonal Regulation (CZR) — banning/limiting new construction within 500 meters of the coast — has been in force in Bombay for some time now. Perhaps this tragedy underlines the importance of this regulation. We cannot prevent such disasters but we can always take preventive measures by creating buffer zones between the ocean and the coastline. Doing so without taking much away from the passive recreation that the coastline provides can be a daunting task but certainly not impossible. Waterfront development — one of my professional interests — might suffer temporarily but I don’t see a long-term trend away from the water’s edge. The sea always manages to lure us back. The occasional slap on the back only makes us hesitate for a while before we venture out again. We are a resilient lot.
May the souls of those perished rest in peace.