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    Side effects of the Sumatra earthquake

    One of the nasty things about a natural disaster such as this weekend’s earthquake + tsunami is that the danger doesn’t disappear with the waves. Sanitation and hygiene aren’t at the highest levels in South and Southeast Asia at the best of times; with decaying organic matter lying around all over the place and iffy access to food, water, and shelter, people in afflicted areas are at much greater-than-normal risk of serious infections. According to WHO projections, the number of deaths from malaria and Dengue fever, among other stock tropical menaces, could be twice as high as normal in the aftermath of the tidal wave. In some places, the figure could rival the death toll from the tsunami itself.

    Of course, these are projections. If the immediate effect of this sort of disaster is to show how physically fragile civilization is in the face of nature, the long-term effect is often to demonstrate how resilient people can be in the most appalling circumstances. At the same time, as the Nikkei report notes, Aceh Province in Indonesia was already famous for its recent violent infighting. That’s not the sort of environment in which efficient, need-based distribution of aid is going to be easy. In comparison, Sri Lanka, itself known until very recently as the site of one of the fiercest civil wars going, looks like a cakewalk. Fortunately, the greatest risks are right now, in the first few weeks after the tsunami, when the situation will still have the world’s attention.

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